hallie ford museum of art

… 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.

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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.

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Louis Bunce: Catalyst for making Portland a city of modern art

A retrospective of Louis Bunce's at the Hallie Ford Museum makes the case for the artist as the catalyst for modern art in Portland

There is a retrospective exhibition of paintings by Louis Bunce at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, running through March 26. It is an important show. It is a great show. It is accompanied by a monograph on Bunce by Roger Hull. It is important. It is great.

The importance of Louis Bunce to the development of art in Portland (and Oregon) cannot be overstated. As Hull says in his introduction: “Arguably Louis Bunce was the major Oregon modern artist of the twentieth century—a claim that can be substantiated on the basis of his enormously skilled production in many styles and modes, his friendship with artists on the New York scene that provided links between the Big Apple and the Rose City, his imaginative will to make Portland, Oregon, a city of art as well as roses, and the sheer force of his amiable, extroverted personality.”

Gerald Robinson, “Portrait of Louis Bunce,” 1955, gelatin silver print//Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

The exhibition certainly demonstrates “his enormously skilled production in many styles and modes.” Born in Wyoming in 1907, Bunce graduated from Jefferson High School in Portland. He attended the School of the Portland Art Association (later called the Museum Art School and later the Pacific Northwest College of Art), and spent four years in his early 20s in New York attending classes at the Art Students League. Early on he was enthralled with the paintings of Paul Cézanne, and the early landscapes in the exhibition have hints of Cézanne.

He then seems to have been inspired by the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico in the 1930s, with works like Along the Waterfront, 1939-1940. Here is a view from the seawall along the Willamette, looking north. Two figures lean on the wall, gazing across the river, but the rest is a simplified still life of objects: timbers, post, wheel, bridge and the towers of the Portland Public Market Building (later the Oregon Journal Building, demolished in 1969 for the construction of Waterfront Park). It has the bleakness of de Chirico, but maybe that’s also the bleakness of the Great Depression.

Louis Bunce, “Along the Waterfront”, 1939-1940. Oil on canvas. 34” x 30 ½” /Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

By the 1950s Bunce, in the spirit of the times, was making abstract expressionist style paintings. For me these are his most powerful works. Bunce combines freedom of form making with explorations of paint application—typical abstract expressionist attributes—with the feeling (not really “depiction”) of the land and sea of Oregon. Burned Land No. 2 relates directly to the series of massive wildfires known as the Tillamook Burn. Other titles such as Bay Composition No.2, Beach—Low Tide, Soft Rocks, Cliffside, or Lava Field, make it clear that Bunce was looking locally for (oh, I hate using this word, but…) “inspiration.”

Landscape-inspired-abstraction continued to be Bunce’s motif of choice through the end of his life, with a few side tracks into “pop”-inspired, paintings of enormous apples and roses, and a series of collages and serigraphs with strange furniture-like motifs (unfortunately not in this exhibition, but in a show of Bunce paper works that just closed at Hallie Ford).

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Art: new images for a new year

The first First Thursday of 2017, and other January visual arts events

Well, we pretty much got out of 2016 with the shirts on our backs, and suddenly here we are in a fresh new year.

January brings some intriguing visual art possibilities, including a major retrospective on Oregon master Louis Bunce (1907-1983) opening Jan. 21 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem. On the same day in Eugene, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art opens Sandow Birk: American Qur’an, a visual exploration of how the Muslim holy book intersects with American life. On Jan. 17 the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College opens youniverse: past, present, future, by veteran Portland artist Tad Savinar, focusing on works conceived in Florence, Italy, in 2014 and 2016 and on prints, paintings, and sculpture from 1994 through 2011.

And the Portland Art Museum has several things coming up this month to help fill the Andy Warhol void: Rodin: The Human Experience, a show of 52 bronzes opening Jan. 21; Constructing Identity, a major look at the work of contemporary and historical African American artists from Henry Ossawa Tanner to Faith Ringgold and beyond, opening Jan. 28; and the Portland Fine Print Fair 2017, which brings together offerings from 20 top dealers, and which the museum hosts Jan. 27-29.

MORE IMMEDIATELY, THURSDAY is the first First Thursday of the art-gallery year, and galleries across town will be opening new monthly shows. (Some have holdovers, or different opening dates.) Here are a few shows that have caught our eye. There’s lots more, so get out and explore on your own:

Carl Morris, “Voyage Unknown,” 1946, oil on canvas, 52 x 32.5 inches. At this point his art is moving away from figurism but not yet into the abstract expressionism for which he’s best known. Photo: Russo Lee Gallery

The iconic Oregon artist Carl Morris (1911-1993) has a show at Russo Lee Gallery, sharing space with Alex Hirsch. Morris moved from WPA-style murals (the Eugene post office) to his own form of earthbound abstract expressionism that kept vital touch with the mysteries of the Northwest landscape. Morris was at once regional and wise to the movements of the international art scene, and this exhibit covers roughly 50 years of development.

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At The Standard, they’re doubling up on the giving

Plus a Nelson Sandgren retrospective and CoHo's Summerfest

When the Portland-based insurance company,The Standard, was acquired by Tokyo’s Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company in March, local schools and non-profits, including arts groups, could have been forgiven for fumbling toward their worry beads. After all, The Standard has traditionally matched its employees and retirees gifts up to $5,000 on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Last year, that meant the company kicked in $1.1 million in the match. What would happen to that venerable, model program under new ownership?

Not to worry. Meiji Yasuda has announced that it will add an additional match to all donations made by employees during The Standard’s 2016 Employee Giving Campaign. During the 2016 campaign, employee contributions will be matched 2:1 up to $5,000 per employee, for a total gift of up to $15,000 per employee.

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Fragments in Time: James B. Thompson’s elusive artistic journey

The new exhibition at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art follows the Salem artist's independent trail over twenty years through time, space, and ideas

James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time, a twenty-year retrospective of paintings, prints, drawings, and fused glass by the notable Oregon artist, opens Saturday, January 23, at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, where it continues through March 26. The exhibition is arranged in eleven series of work, beginning in 1995 and continuing through 2015. Bob Hicks wrote the essay for the accompanying catalog. Here, we excerpt its passages on the first series in the exhibition, “Certain Situations,” created 1995-1997.

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The world of James B. Thompson is a mindscape of bits and pieces waiting to be rearranged. It holds fragments of history and shards of place. Fleeting thoughts, broken connections, surviving evidences of cultures and ways of thinking buried deep in time. It’s a destination of transformations and sly jokes about the universe’s constant state of change: as he wryly puts it, the fragmentary is so becoming. His art ranges across continents of possibilities, assembling and creating contemporary beauty out of evidences of things past. The ritual sites of prehistoric Picts. The game of golf. Disappearing landscapes. French village life. The medieval sense of space, forgotten hand tools, the way that glass can be like a map. …

"The Visitation," 1996, acrylic with mixed media on paper, 31 x 27”, (framed dimensions), courtesy of the artist. Photo: Dale Peterson.

“The Visitation,” 1996, acrylic with mixed media on paper, 31 x 27”, (framed dimensions), courtesy of the artist. Photo: Dale Peterson.

The first series in this twenty-year retrospective rises, as so much of Thompson’s mature work does, partly from his visits to Scotland. It also marks the fruition of twenty years of earlier work, developing his themes and styles, discovering the future of his own art. That future wound through the world of medieval art, then back again to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

For most of his career to this point, Thompson had been a committed abstractionist, surfing in his independent way the waves of modern and contemporary movements. Here, he stuck with contemporary theories of color and space, but added figures, not so much for their emotional impact (although the figure of Death, for instance, is fraught with implications), but as added shapes and suggestions to be shuffled into place on the plane of canvas or paper. It seemed a minor shift: he wasn’t adopting an Andrew Wyeth sort of realism, or even a Francis Bacon−style contorted figurism. Yet it represented a personal leap forward through a giant leap backward.

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Henk Pander: After the apocalypse

Nine drawings at Nine Gallery take us into surreal spaces, classically

There’s a taste of Henk Pander at Nine Gallery right now. It is delicious. Just a taste because there are only nine drawings, but delicious because they are elegant, big (38” x 50”) pen and ink on paper drawings. And just a taste because Pander is a multifarious artist. He’s a painter’s painter with conventional oil on canvas (commissioned portraits of Oregon governors McCall and Kitzhaber, for example), and he also handles watercolor that dances at huge scale for that medium.

These drawings, all from 2014-2015, depict apocalyptic fantasies, typical of one vein of Pander’s work since he moved to Portland from The Netherlands fifty years ago. Vistas feel barren (Pander finds deserts to be “powerful landscapes”). Architecture is ruins. Humans are forlorn. Animals are feral. Three of the drawings include massive dinosaurish beasts with tyrannosaurus-like heads, dog-style bodies and long whip tails. The drawings are huge for “pen-and-ink.” As Pander says in his posted notes on the show (one of the very few “artist’s statements” that I’ve ever found worth reading), the drawings’ “larger formats…create a tension because of the contrasting fine lines.”

Henk Pander, "Observation Post," pen and ink./Courtesy Henk Pander

Henk Pander, “Observation Post,” pen and ink./Courtesy Henk Pander

There are three striking things in this exhibition: concept, composition and technique. In his statement Pander says the process for the drawings is “nearly stream of consciousness.” Maybe there are some small sketches before these drawings begin, but Pander notes that there is no “preliminary pencil or underdrawing.” So how does a concept like Observation Post develop? Here we have a tightly composed landscape fragment containing some rocks on barren ground, a pock-marked concrete pillbox casemate, two hungry looking emaciated dogs snarling over some large bones, a naked human female entering the scene from the upper left, a vulture coming in for a central landing just above the dogs, a quizzical rat in waiting that blends in with the rocks, and an airplane exiting the scene, passing over behind the pillbox. And after you take all that in, you notice the four fingers jutting up from the ground at the lower left.

On his website (henkpander.com—well worth a visit) there is a biographical note that says in part, “His training provided him with skills that related to Dutch art extending back to the seventeenth century as well as to twentieth-century movements such as Expressionism and Surrealism.” Surrealism is evident here. The Comte de Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror was influential to the Surrealists. At one point de Lautréamont describes a young boy as “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella.” In this drawing there are a lot of chance meetings. Pander (born 1937) was a young boy in Holland during World War II and that casemate relic might have something to do with that. He recalls a winter when there was no food or heat, and in this drawing we have a few bones under contention. The rat lurks, as small animals often do in conventional classic Dutch paintings of the 17th century. But over all of the drama in the scene, the plane flies away. It can be seen as a comment on how some are lucky enough to just be above it all.

Henk Pander, "Climax", pen and ink/Courtesy Henk Pander

Henk Pander, “Climax”, pen and ink/Courtesy Henk Pander

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, "A view of the magnificent tomb near the remains of the factory in Torre de Schiavi outside Porta Maggiore", etching./WikiArt

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, “A view of the magnificent tomb near the remains of the factory in Torre de Schiavi outside Porta Maggiore”, etching./WikiArt

Two of Pander’s compositions include his dino-creatures in doggy-style copulation. In Climax the creature behind throws his head back in ecstasy beneath a fractured fragment of an ancient Roman dome. (I was thinking about how ruin fragments in some of Pander’s drawings reminded me of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s prints from the 18th century. Checking myself, I found the direct reference for this drawing: A view of the magnificent tomb near the remains of the factory in Torre de Schiavi outside Porta Maggiore.) The head of this dino fits elegantly within the arc of the dome, and its lighter aspect is set off by the shadow within the dome. Similarly the receiving-dino, crouched on all four legs, is composed with its head related to a ruined vaulted hall. The arc of the top of the head mimics the adjoining arch of the top of the vault, while the arching neck-jaw line below does the same with the arch of the far end of the hall. These aspects act like anchors, fitting the action into the architecture. Pander’s compositions utilize classic methods in assembling parts—but here well-known methods are worked through the mind of a virtuoso. Students could learn a lot here.

Henk Pander, "The Convoy PQ-18 with Liberty Ship", pen and ink/Courtesy of Henk Pander

Henk Pander, “The Convoy PQ-18 with Liberty Ship”, pen and ink/Courtesy of Henk Pander

While the subject matter seems “dark,” Pander’s technique, for the most part, keeps the drawings feeling light. Only one drawing, The Convoy PQ-18 with Liberty Ship, has the familiar deep velvety black of dense cross-hatching. Otherwise we see apocalyptic scenes in bright overcast. There are thousands of ink lines in these drawings, and each line has a purpose. It could outline. It could cross-hatch with others to make a shadow. It could run in parallel with many others to define a sky. It might be a little stroke to define a surface. But what it will not be is an empty gesture “art-mark” flourish to claim that an “artist” is at work. In every work, if one asks, “Why is that (object, line, mark) there?”, the answer is, “because it is pictorially essential.”

On First Thursday evening, my ArtsWatch colleague Patrick Collier posted on Facebook: “Henk Pander at Nine Gallery is like walking into a temple.” I agree—a temple designed by Hieronymus Bosch perhaps.

Henk Pander, "Flight", oil on canvas/Courtesy of Henk Pander

Henk Pander, “Flight”, oil on canvas/Courtesy of Henk Pander

If you happen to be in Salem, you can see a couple major Pander paintings at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University. The Burning of the New Carissa, 2000, (oil on linen, 63 x 81 in., collection of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University, Salem, Ore., Maribeth Collins Art Acquisition Fund, 2010.043) is being shown as part of the permanent collection. The New Carissa was a ship that wrecked on the Oregon coast in 1999 (finally totally removed in 2008). What Pander depicts is a view of the oil being burned off to avoid spillage, but in the context of the painting the focus is on a huge nighttime conflagration disaster contrasted with a quiet community—another odd (if real) juxtaposition. Flight, 2009, (oil on linen, 81 x 142 in., courtesy of the artist, Portland, Oregon) is in the exhibition Stilleven: Contemporary Still Life (September 12 – December 20, 2015). Here we have a big studio setup of skeletons rigged up with ropes. The looks and gestures of this group in this big (almost 12 feet long) painting are reminiscent of those dinosaurish animals in the big drawings at Nine.

Note: Paul Sutinen is a founding member of Nine Gallery. Henk Pander is not a member of Nine Gallery, but was invited to show his work by a current Nine Gallery member.

Mel Katz at Hallie Ford: The circus and beyond

A major Mel Katz retrospective will make you smile and invite you to go further

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art’s major new retrospective on the work of Portland artist Mel Katz continues at the Salem museum through August 23. ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson, who wrote the essay that accompanies the exhibition’s catalog, considers different ways to approach Katz’s seemingly odd but rigorous work.

The opening of the Mel Katz retrospective, Mel Katz: On and Off the Wall, attracted a large crowd to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem on Friday night, including the artist and a van full of family and friends down from Portland. In the back room of the gallery, I stopped to talk to Mel’s son Jesse, and he looked around and noted that it looked like a “funhouse” in there. I had to agree. The tall, colorful sculptures in that room stand close together, and with their different materials and odd shapes, maybe they do seem a little clownlike. And I mean that in a good way. The bright “Katz colors” of his wall sculptures (he once tracked down the mixer of Calder’s famous red paint, but couldn’t get the formula, so he invented his own), the weird juxtapositions of various Formica surfaces that he used for a time in the 1980s, and the odd shapes of rugged steel sculptures and the finer textures and lines of his aluminum pieces combined to make the Hallie Ford Museum quite festive.

That was the first revelation of the exhibition for me. How much fun these peculiar artworks generate when you collect them in one place. I understood them pretty well as individual objects, I thought, because I had written the catalog essay for the show in a four-month burst at the end of last year, aided greatly by the artist himself and museum director John Olbrantz. But I hadn’t imagined the effect of them in close proximity, even though Mel had shown me various provisional exhibition diagrams during our talks together. The powerful, occasionally goofy sensory impressions they sparked were sometimes overwhelming. As Mel might say, “Who knew?”

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