cooley gallery

… and oddly, as a pitched political battle sweeps the nation, life goes on. How will the arts world respond to the extraordinary events of the day? How, if at all, will this most divisive and pugilistic of administrations respond to the world of art? Shoes could drop at any moment: the administration has already stated its intent to kill the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and to end federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. While Nero threatens to cut off the fiddles, here are a few highlights of what’s going on in and around town.


IT’S FIRST THURSDAY this week, when many galleries open their new monthly shows, so visual art is on our minds. The Portland Art Museum has opened Rodin: The Human Experience, a major show of 52 bronzes, and Constructing Identity, an important overview of historical and contemporary work by African American artists.

Louis Bunce, “Apple”, 1968. Oil on canvas. 41” x 48”//Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

And the invaluable Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem has opened Louis Bunce: Dialogue with Modernism, a retrospective on the late Oregon artist, who Paul Sutinen, in his ArtsWatch review of the show, identifies as a key figure in the city’s cultural life, the catalyst for making Portland a city of modern art. “It is an important show,” Sutinen declares. “It is a great show. It is accompanied by a monograph on Bunce by Roger Hull. It is important. It is great.” And then he explains why. See the sort of thing that the Savonarolas of the federal purse are eager to upend.


Alan Sonfist: in the nature of things

At Cooley Gallery, the artist isolates aspects of nature to "give the viewer an awareness that can be translated into a total unraveling of the cosmos”

Lee Krasner told a story about the meeting between venerable painter Hans Hofmann and Jackson Pollock.

Hofmann asked, “Do you work from nature?”

Pollock replied, “I am nature.”

Some might consider that an arrogant reply. On the other hand, Pollock might have been humbly saying that he was only a part of nature like any tiny insect, that human versus nature was a false dichotomy, that human action is natural action.

Pollock’s expression of his nature was found best in his grand dripped abstract expressionist paintings. Painting was the forward-looking medium that was available to him. He died in 1956 at the age of 44. In 1956 Alan Sonfist was 10 years old. Another decade later he would find that the idea of what a forward-thinking art “medium” could be was wide open. The exhibition Alan Sonfist: Natural History through June 12 at the Cooley Gallery at Reed College documents some of his works from 1960 to 1980.

Alan Sonfist, "Myself Becoming One with the Tree," 1969

Alan Sonfist, “Myself Becoming One with the Tree,” 1969

When I first heard of the show, I immediately thought of the essay Nature as Artifact: Alan Sonfist, in the November, 1973, issue of Artforum magazine. The first illustration in the article is Army Ants: Patterns and Structures, a photographic top view of hundreds of army ants marching in a tight galaxy-like pattern, “following a circular trail of chemical secretions.” I’ve always considered this picture as a “drawing” that utilizes the unknowing cooperation of the ants. As it turns out this was a detail view of a 400-square-foot installation for which “Sonfist rearranged four separate food sources for the ants, carefully videotaping and drawing their changing movement patterns.” In the Cooley show there are two graphite on paper drawings, Army Ant Movements, 1972-1973, related to Sonfist’s study of these ants that he had collected in Panama and brought to New York (more than a million of them).


Zero Project: Fighter plane as art

At Reed College's Cooley Gallery, Katsushige Nakahashi's life-sized 3-D Japanese Zero fighter made from 25,000 photographs has landed


The ZERO Project by Katsushige Nakahashi opened in an unusual way, with the Reed College Cooley Gallery staff and volunteers maintaining a quiet rhythm of putting together elaborate arrangements of photographs. The assembly process became the exhibition itself—a rare view of backstage moment, with folding tables stretched out throughout the gallery, and a printout of instructions with corresponding images displayed on a metal board. The registrar walked back and forth in the space, organizing the sets of photos—all 25,000 developed at a local print shop—while cellophane-tape stands stood throughout the space for construction.

The task at hand for Cooley Gallery’s team and any willing participant was to construct Nakahashi’s artwork from these prints, a life-scale Mitsubishi A6M Zero warplane flown by Imperial Japanese Navy pilots during World War II. The sculpture was created from a plane model at 1/32 scale, meticulously photographed with a macro lens in 2 x 3 mm. The negatives were then printed at a standard size. The outcome is a life-size plane existing in three-dimensions, occupying the entire gallery space. The resulting cloth-like plane bends and sags, a wing folding up on the wall, a fighter plane in a flaccid state.

The assembly of Katsushige Nakahashi's Zero Project at Cooley Gallery, Reed College/Photo by Grace Kook-Anderson

The assembly of Katsushige Nakahashi’s Zero Project at
Cooley Gallery, Reed College/Photo by Grace Kook-Anderson

In previous exhibitions, the constructed Zeros have been ceremoniously taken to an outdoor location to be incinerated, leaving a burn mark on the land that over time, heals and disappears with new growth. However, due to environmental concerns and with the artist’s permission, the Cooley Gallery announced a deconstruction and wrapping of the plane on Saturday, February 20th, from noon to 5 p.m. They will develop another community ritual to be announced in the near future.

Nakahashi started ZERO Project in 2000 and retired from it in 2009. The installation at Cooley Gallery, under curator and director, Stephanie Snyder, is the first time ZERO has been constructed without the artist present, though this was Nakahashi’s intention for the project from the beginning—to remove himself from its making, allowing others to take it over in hopes of expanding the impact and dialogue inspired by the project. Snyder’s sensitivity to Nakahashi’s work has remained evident for the duration of the exhibition, apparent in how closely involved in the process she has been and how she has taken into consideration the entire life-span of ZERO.

The individual prints, some out of focus, with a lot of overlapping sections, require meticulous matching, like solving a monumental puzzle. Because of the macro-scale, oftentimes Nakahashi did not see what he was photographing. Feeling his way, almost blindly around the contours of the model plane, Nakahashi had to estimate the sections to photograph.

The assembly of Katsushige Nakahashi's Zero Project at Cooley Gallery, Reed College/Photo by Grace Kook-Anderson

The assembly of Katsushige Nakahashi’s Zero Project at
Cooley Gallery, Reed College/Photo by Grace Kook-Anderson

The prints look strikingly aquatic, cosmic, and organic. Students dedicated to helping on ZERO compared the imagery to stalks of grass. Nakahashi describes his own reaction upon seeing the details of the prints: “I myself was really surprised to realize how beautiful the detail of this artwork is. When I looked through the camera viewfinder, I had no idea which part I was shooting—it was far from the image of an airplane. While I was putting together the photographs, I felt as if I were creating an abstract painting out of stand-alone pieces.”

The nature of ephemerality is a significant consideration for Nakahashi. As photo paper is essentially ephemeral, Nakahashi describes his attraction to using photographs as sculptures: “I had an intuition that photographs might be the medium for sculpture when I once cut many photographs into square shapes, lined them up, and discovered that this group of photographs came to possess a tile-like texture. When gathered in great number, even photographs of very familiar objects looked different.”

Nakahashi’s relationship to the Zero warplane stirs conflicting feelings: the joy of playing with warplane models as a boy with a sense of “boyish heroism”; meticulously studying them while building the models; reconciling the brutal purpose and cultural identity associated with them; and the cultural denial of a traumatic wartime history. Nakahashi’s father was a Zero mechanic with intimate knowledge of the plane’s physicality and witnessed the detonation of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki in 1945.

The assembly of Katsushige Nakahashi's Zero Project at Cooley Gallery, Reed College/Photo by Grace Kook-Anderson

The assembly of Katsushige Nakahashi’s Zero Project at
Cooley Gallery, Reed College/Photo by Grace Kook-Anderson

The conceptual framework of Nakahashi’s ZERO Project creates a collapse of hegemony. Through rigorous repetition and constant tactility, Nakahashi creates the warplane three-times removed from its actual source. Participants recreate a semblance of the plane, compulsively working on its trace, while confronted by the ghost of the object itself—or rather the model of the object.

In Nakahashi’s confrontation with the subject, with his obsessive exploration of its surfaces and the process of its construction and eventual destruction, he transports himself and project participants beyond the Zero’s historical and cultural attachments. The subject shifts from a warplane and its geopolitical place to the greater commonalities of collective history, the communal experience of loss, remembrance, and eventual healing.

Katsushige Nakahashi's Zero Project at Cooley Gallery, Reed College/Photo by Evan LaLonde

Katsushige Nakahashi’s Zero Project at
Cooley Gallery, Reed College/Photo by Evan LaLonde

The finality of ZERO comes in the ritual of its very disappearance, as Nakahashi describes, a “return to ground zero”: “What I realized upon making the ZEROs many times is that, as the participants get absorbed in the process and come to the construction every day, they start asking themselves how the ZERO shall be exhibited and also how they might feel when it is burned. It is a rare experience to think of the disappearance of an object while making that very object. I think this is a very important hint upon thinking about the war. The burning makes a very strong impact. Also, the remaining ashes possess poetic beauty and speak to our memory. This will teach us how to think of the deceased, and also how to foster that memory.”

Anselm Kiefer comes to mind while contemplating Nakahashi’s work. Though a decade apart in age, both artists were born early enough to have a very intimate experience of World War II. Theirs was an era of recovery, living with the pungent presence of history. Their commonality in art is deeply bound by memory and transcendence.


ZERO Project
Katsushige Nakahashi
Cooley Gallery, Reed College
Exhibition Dates: Through February 21, 2016
Saturday, February 20, 12 – 5 p.m.: Ceremonial deconstruction and wrapping of ZERO

TBA:13: Waiting for Isenstein

At the Cooley Gallery: Absence in the form of entertainment

It makes sense that Jamie Isenstein’s “Will Return” at Reed College’s Cooley Gallery is part of PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival. It’s right there in the title of the exhibit, a time marked by absence and anticipation. The most ephemeral of the ephemeral, Limbo, waiting in our theater seats or the remembering as we get up to leave after the applause has died. There is also an element of performance in this exhibit: Something has happened/might happen/happen again. Not a bad concept to center an exhibition upon, especially at one’s alma mater.

I mean, I get it, but I wish I didn’t quite so readily. The show presents a long-standing consideration of what it means to entertain and be entertained, and in that this exhibition has been curated as a survey show, it might also by default represent what happens when a student shows promise, someone sees that potential, accountability and investment to follow.

Magic Fingers/Andrew Kreps Gallery

Magic Fingers/Andrew Kreps Gallery

So, I put myself into a time frame, consider what in the show is early work, and I am prepared to ease up a bit. Yes, “Magic Fingers” (2003) has an appeal, making the frame a small stage for the artist’s disembodied hand (The Addam’s Family’s Thing), or in her absence, a hanging sign that gives us the title of the exhibit. Yet, other pieces like “Inside Out Headshots (Skeleton and Lotion),” which was made the following year, or “Eyehole,” done the year after that, are as straightforward and humorous as one-liner jokes that could be dropped from the set.


On (not) Seeing Kara Walker Speak at Reed College

The hall was full and the reporter makes a resolution


Kara Walker is a genius. The MacArthur committee made it official when she was 28, and they were right. Walker makes very smart, terribly beautiful, and consistently disruptive and disturbing work, some of which is on show at Reed College’s Cooley Gallery right now.

On Tuesday evening, just after the announcement of this year’s crop of MacArthur geniuses, Walker visited Reed to give a talk. And I should have known to watch out. I should have guessed. The last time I went to see Kara Walker’s art, I waited in line at the Whitney, outside the Whitney and around the corner actually, and I set aside the whole day for it. Because Kara Walker is a genius and a bright challenger of received opinion and even in Southeast Portland on a Tuesday night, everybody, or close to everybody, showed up.

I got to the lecture hall a respectable (I thought) 15 minutes early, but the atrium was already filled with the disappointed. People milled around looking alternately frantic or disheartened, some of them attempting to scoot past the very kind and very adamant door-minders, others squinting at the over-full overflow room, willing more folding chairs to appear. It’s probably unsurprising that Reed students would be avid to see Walker speak, but there were all sorts in the crowd. Students, certainly, but also a series of perplexed older couples, a group of women in their 30s looking amused amid the confusion, various more established folk, some looking very arty and others not arty at all.

Really, close to everybody showed up. And everybody looked surprised and a little impressed. This is Portland. This is Tuesday. We show up for the arts, but we don’t typically line up.

I waved to some lucky acquaintances who’d anticipated better. I wandered around with the Other Disappointed, vaguely imagining that someone might set up another live feed. But, no. Finally, I made my way over to the exhibition and found it likewise crammed, a long line wending out to the student mailboxes. I decided to hold off and went home hungry.

But you know, I’m delighted. Because I’ll go back to the gallery and see Walker’s show on a quieter evening. And the Cooley Gallery, in it’s kindness and wisdom, plans to post a recording of Walker’s talk on their website in a week or so (Editor’s note: we’ll let you know when!). I’ll get to hear what she had to say after all. And in the meantime, I’m delighted that Portland is keyed-in and committed and curious enough to overwhelm the expectations of Reed College, the Cooley Gallery, and all the diligent, disappointed parties who showed up 15 minutes early thinking there wouldn’t be much of a crowd. I hope we all listen to the recording and come back for the show, and then we can chat about it while we’re waiting for things to start the next time everybody shows up. 30 minutes early.


The Cooley Gallery at Reed College is showing “Kara Walker: More & Less” through Nov. 18. The gallery is on the main floor of the Reed Library and is open noon-5pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Admission is free.

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