contemporary northwest art awards

ArtsWatch Weekly: chasing hot rods

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

It’s been quite a week here at ArtsWatch. Busy? We’ve been racing around town like hound dogs chasing hot rods, trying to keep up. Almost to our canine surprise, we caught quite a few. But some of those wheels just keep on spinning, a little bit out of reach. The whole world’s been coming to town, at least cinematically, for the Portland International Film Festival. Plays have been popping up all over the place, from Artists Rep’s Mothers and Sons to Contigo Pan y Cebolla, Milagro’s nifty Spanish-language trip to pre-revolution Havana. We’ve seen a little dance. We’ve heard a lot of music.

Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, left: Samantha Wall, "Face," 2014, sumi ink and dried pigment. © Samantha Wall. Photo: Dan Kvitka. Right: Akio Takamori, "Squatting Girl in Blue Dress," 2012, stoneware with underglazes, 36 x 20 x 15 inches, © Akio Takamori. Photo: Richard Nicol.

Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, left: Samantha Wall, “Face,” 2014, sumi ink and dried pigment. © Samantha Wall. Photo: Dan Kvitka. Right: Akio Takamori, “Squatting Girl in Blue Dress,” 2012,
stoneware with underglazes, 36 x 20 x 15 inches, © Akio Takamori. Photo: Richard Nicol.

And we’ve been johnny-on-the-spot for more big news on the museum front. Paul Sutinen took in the Portland Art Museum’s new exhibition for the 2016 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, and has a lot to say about them. Fallout continues from the decision to shut down the Museum of Contemporary Craft, and ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson has been talking to a lot of the players and inside observers about what it all means: watch for his next chapter in a continuing series of reports. Meanwhile, PAM’s fascinating time trip of a photography show, Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy, continues in the special exhibitions galleries. We’ll take an in-depth look at that, too. Just as soon as we catch that car.

Sutinen’s essay on the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards praises the art and artists but wonders what the museum’s driving idea is – or if it has one. You’ll want to read to the whole thing. A quick sample: “The artists’ works are ambitious. The museum’s effort, not so much. Some version of these biennial shows have been occurring for a long time and they always have the same problem: What’s the point? … It might be good for the museum to educate itself, even if that happens only once every two years. But what does it do for the museum audience? Does this show provide a ‘deeper understanding?’ No, it provides a thin potpourri (to reiterate: the works in this exhibition are really worth seeing!), a casual glance, not a deep look.”


NW Art Awards: a box of chocolates

The Portland Art Museum's biennial Contemporary Northwest Arts Awards showcase has a lot of tasty art, but the packaging's suspect


Go see the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards at the Portland Art Museum if you want to see some big strong ambitious works by artists of the region. There are seven artists’ works in this exhibition, which continues through May 28 (one of the artists is a two-person collaborative):

Victoria Haven is the conceptualist in the show. Her largest piece, Subtitles, is made up of ninety-eight woodblock prints installed seven high across a wall over forty feet long. Each panel contains juxtaposed black rectangles, each containing a single word in white. The paired words might have been selected dada-like, at random, for example: wow/ever, fun/closer, goodnight/pennies. Her works here are cryptic. Is the intention poetry or puzzle?

Lead Pencil Studio, Afforest, 2015, Charcoal, graphite, ink and paint on paper, 73 ½ x 96 ½ inches

Lead Pencil Studio, Afforest, 2015, Charcoal, graphite, ink and paint on paper, 73 ½ x 96 ½ inches

Lead Pencil Studio is the artist duo. The works here have a basis in fantasy architecture/urbanism. Lead Pencil Studio is known in Portland for the huge works titled Inversion Plus Minus at the east ends of the Hawthorne and Morrison bridges. In the awards show they are represented by a 25-foot-tall leaning tower built of a variety of materials, two huge framed drawings and a couple of curio cabinets containing crystalline objects reminiscent of souvenirs.


Well, THIS is interesting. We can expect a very different Portland 2012 Biennial next year from Disjecta. Why? Because the 2010 Biennial was curated by Cris Moss, curator of Linfield College’s gallery, and the 2012 will be curated by Prudence Roberts. As the press release puts it, “The curator’s vision is a key component of Disjecta’s Biennial. Each incarnation is a fully realized exhibition that speaks to the strengths and interests of an invited guest curator.” And this is interesting because it is honest and up-front about the fact that ANY selection is subjective (in spite of protests to the contrary that one hears). So the selection of the curator, then, becomes all important. Is it ever otherwise? Did anything Bonnie Laing-Malcomsen selected for the CNAA’s surprise you given her background (especially at OCAC)? Maybe the selection of Susie Lee surprised me. A little.

I’m reminded of an episode in Portland art history when critic and writer and curator Lucy Lippard was asked by the Portland Center for the Visual Arts to curate a show. An open call was put out and Lippard viewed hundreds (probably thousands) of slides, then came to the Northwest and visited dozens of studios all over Oregon and Washington. Paul Sutinen, artist and at the time critic for the Willamette Week, recalls that anticipation on the part of artists in waiting for her final selection, was high. The expectation was that Lippard would embrace the kind of art that she’d been writing about and thinking about in New York and elsewhere. But she came to the Northwest looking for something different. And in many ways, she found what she was looking for for In Touch: Nature, Ritual and Sensuous Art from the Northwest (does the title give that away?).

While we’re talking about history, it is worth mentioning that the Oregon Biennial was, for many years, the project of the Portland Art Museum, as befits the main visual arts institution in the region. The museum dumped the Biennial project in favor or the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, focusing on a handful of artists rather than a major survey, and topped off by the Arlene Schnitzer prize for one of those artists. Was this to extend its reach and relevance beyond Oregon? Was it too much work (requiring too many resources) to curate and hang a massive survey show? Regardless, the net result was that there was no more biannual survey and it was missed by artists and art watchers.

Along came alt-space Disjecta who lined up Moss to curate the Portland2010 Biennial that I (and I wasn’t alone) thought was a pretty good picture of what this year’s Biennial (in its press release) claims to aspire to, “a major survey of work by artists that are defining and advancing the visual arts scene of Portland.”

I do wonder, transparency about subjectivity aside, if rotating curators won’t just give a wildly divergent view every two years of just what kinds of artists are “defining and advancing the visual arts scene of Portland.” And I’m grappling with whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Roberts as former curator of American art at the Portland Art Museum (1987 to 2000), was around for many an Oregon Biennial. She has continued to curate and contribute essays for exhibitions at the Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, and The Art Gym at Marylhurst University.

Meanwhile, this is your call, artists, to be afforded one of those studio visits from Roberts for your chance to be included in the Biennial. Here’s the info:

Interested artists who have lived in Oregon as a primary residence for the past two years may submit qualifications through CaFE™ ( The deadline for submissions is 11:59PM, MDT (Mountain Daylight Time), August 12, 2011. All materials must be submitted through CaFE™ to be considered. Roberts will conduct studio visits with artists and announce her selections in early Fall 2011. Selected artists will receive a stipend, which may be used to create new work for the exhibition. Disjecta anticipates that Roberts will view and consider the work of more than 300 artists.
Portland2012 is supported in party by The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission.

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