Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hilary Pfeifer on W+K radio

I'm really excited about the new radio coming out of Wieden + Kennedy. Tomorrow I have my first interview on the station. I’ll be talking to Hilary Pfeifer about Art on Alberta and the annual Art Hop, which will be on May 16th this year. This year the organization is honoring Thelma Johnson Streat, an artist from here who was the first African American woman artist to be exhibited and collected by MOMA. There will be about 50 of her works (pic above) exhibited in various galleries along Alberta Street. The broadcast is 10:30AM.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kim McKenna on KBOO

Listen to the interview here.
I am looking forward to having Kim McKenna on the radio this morning. She has a show of paintings called Modern Problems at Beppu Wiarda.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Guerilla Girl on KBOO

Since I've been at KBOO I've had the opportunity to interview for other programs on the station. (For instance, awhile back I talked to Karen Coulter of the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project.) On the 28th for Political Perspectives, I will talk to Kathe Kollwitz of The Guerilla Girls about art, women and activism. As you can imagine, I am really looking forward to this. Kollwitz will be speaking at PSU that evening in the Smith Memorial Ballroom as part of the series "Feminist Perspectives in Pop Culture" sponsored by Bitch magazine and PSU’s Women’s Resource Center.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

the middle aged phenomenon

Call it the Susan Boyle phenomenon: a middle aged woman with nothing particularly glamorous about her is actually incredibly talented. People are shocked. The shock I do not understand, though I’ve seen it too many times to count.

She said she always wanted to have a singing career. “And why hasn’t it worked out so far, Susan?” asked the judge. The crowd shared looks of doubt - as if we all have opportunity and as if we all recognize talent when it stands before us. But we don’t.

And why must fabulous surprises of ripping talent only come in a young, fresh form? It doesn’t surprise me one bit that she could sing well for years without fanfare. What is unique though is holding on so long to the dream. So many drop out and forget. To believe in “someday,” year in and year out, brings a wear and tear of its own. But she never gave up.

This reminded me of what I initially did at Lovelake: show artists who, for whatever reason, were not the artstars they could have/should have been by their age - artists past 40, 50, even 60. Maybe some of them looked like a “risk,” but what they really were was just a surprise. In one moment and not unlike what we saw with Ms. Boyle, the consensus changed. From hindsight it looked obvious and so right, but initially it was sort of wrong and uncomfortable.

The word risk is still interesting, even though it is used nonstop these days, often applied to things which are already a given, an understood fait accompli. Many operate under the premise that quality risk is a known commodity, raised and nurtured in fine institutions and scripted into the press release. I’m not saying that this is impossible, but perhaps it happens less than is supposed. The looks of doubt that we see in this video are shared in other arenas – like the art world.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Amy Archer at Augen

Amy Archer is a photographer who shoots mostly place/landscape and then montages the photos in multiples. The result is an appetizing pattern which can look like crisp abstract painting. The first show I saw of hers (at Augen) was all pasted by hand. Then she eventually montaged digitally, producing big seamless prints which also looked good. But I had heard that at her new show at Augen, she had chosen to take the original method and crafted the seams herself. For me, as a collage artist, it’s particularly notable to see how much more satisfying these new works are. It’s like you don’t know what you’ve lost till you get it back.

It has to do with the subtle and irregular human edges. They give you something to wrap your eye around. The fact that the works are not quite as unified gives them a more complex feel - more tactile and chewy than the digital cut and paste. As a viewer you’re not as lazy, you’ve got to stop a bit.

I heard that the images on the Augen site were nonetheless montaged digitally (as opposed to the artist scanning the entire collage). I think you can see and feel the difference - so what you’re seeing here is not what you can see on the walls of the gallery (most of the show is not online anyway). The subtle shifts and the variation in dimension make a big difference, especially when we're talking pattern.

None of this might matter to me if I wasn't an artist hemming and hawing about the subtle and not-so subtle-shifts produced in my own work when I decided to scan, enlarge and print a montage. Those moves were supposed to make it bigger, easier, smoother and thus, unilaterally better. Well, the bigness was cool but I couldn’t help feeling that something was lost in the process. No doubt there are any reasons why Archer’s new work looks the best yet, but I think the process was one of them.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Richard Schemmerer on KBOO

Listen to the interview.
I am looking forward to having Richard Schemmerer on the radio with me this coming Tuesday. He has a window called Never Good Enough at PDX Contemporary Art. He is also currently in a show called Double Vision at Virtuoso’s Back Room Project Space. He may be equally known for penning a million blogs – too many for me to keep up with – but the best is PDXart. He had a great show called Icons and Idols awhile back and we made a fun video here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

she could paint anything

I’ve written before that “Mom could paint anything.” During my childhood I saw her do cowboys on wood, Jesus on velvet or twisted spiraling checkerboards inspired by Op Art - all with a style of her own. But I never saw this early 1960s nude, which must have been stashed away. It was a revelation when I came across it last week and it reminds me of something Walter Robinson might do (well, without the clothes and kisses) - though Mom saw no irony in it and even looked at me sort of blank when I suggested cheesecake.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner first really entered my consciousness when I got into The Wee Small Hours of the Morning by Frank Sinatra. The story is this great album is the result of Ava dumping Frank. From what I’ve read, he was at his lowest point when he met her and she paid his bills. Sinatra owes a revival in his career to her in more ways than one. She also used her great influence to help him land the role in From Here to Eternity.

While he was a great man, she almost seems like too much of a woman for him. She’s all woman, as they say (that’s why I used the De Kooning - those “women” paintings I’ve had a love/hate relationship with, which of course share her same era). Even the small images I find of her, over fifty years old, come off very lush and big.

Monday, April 13, 2009

the Mark Woolley Gallery

I left London for Portland in 1978 and spent only 3 years here then, but would continue to return for vacations. In 1996 I made what would be a fateful trip, as I met my husband to be. I also met Mark Woolley that year, who is now closing his gallery.

Pietro Ferrua, famous conscientious objector and anarchist, was curating an INI group show at Mark’s. I figured that Mark Woolley could be no ordinary gallery as this INI group (such as it was) was based on international mail art – not your typical commercial gallery fodder.

Once I moved out here I was haplessly working out wedding details in a rush, something I don’t wish on my worst enemy. There are things I would do differently but I have no regrets about having my wedding reception at Mark’s gallery, which was then a warm, upstairs space in the Pearl, still rough around the edges.

Little did I know that I would eventually clock in hundreds of hours at that space - it no longer resides in my mental sphere as just my wedding day. But the way that gallery space lives in my mind is just as good. That 9th Avenue space was where you ended up after a night of gallery hopping. You settled in with a glass of wine poured by great gallerinas like Carol Yarrow and Leah Emkin and had real conversations.

Still, the wedding reception was memorable - Three Leg Torso played. We had guests from all across the country, including a bevy of gorgeous girlfriends from New York, all from the fashion trade. And the current exhibition at the gallery stayed up during our reception, which was work by MK Guth. Could you have asked for a better exhibiting artist? I don’t think so. Nonetheless some of my relatives couldn’t understand the notorious soap sculpture of a wedding dress in the gallery, with words like Bitch and Whore on the individual bars of soap. My poor aunt and uncle from Wenatchee couldn’t wrap their heads around that one.

Friday, April 10, 2009

the uniform

I’m down in southern Oregon, where I grew up. My mother no longer lives in the same knotty pine cabin on Dark Hollow Road, but it’s still great to come down here for a visit. Slowly she’s giving me things she’s held on to a lifetime and yesterday I received her American Airlines stewardess uniform from 1953! In the photo here, found online, it drapes loosely across the mannequin. On me it’s tight as hell, but that’s not terrible. Beautiful navy gabardine, I have coveted this garment, hung in the back of a closet, my entire life. It even has the original wings.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Eric Stotik on KBOO

A few years ago I curated a project for Trimet’s Interstate Max Line. The final stop of this line is at Expo and for this station I put together Paul Fujita with Eric Stotik. It still looks great. Paul’s work resided in a book, where every page was a layered abstract, collaged journey. Stotik also presented a journey – a painting of railroad tracks disappearing into the dark blue night.

His dark night blues in particular are fantastic. His current show at Laura Russo displays plenty of them. When you look at his work in reproduction, you might think it is large but in fact most of the work at Russo is small and the details are mind boggling. The works are narrative, based in mystery. He makes no artist statements. He’ll be my guest this week on Art Focus.

Friday, April 3, 2009

looking at the same thing

Not long ago someone pitched me a very worthy subject for an interview. To up the ante they revealed who else was covering this artist. It seemed like the whole town. This let out the air in my balloon, though that’s not how most of the art world works.

As Seven Days in the Art World will tell you, the art world has a “culture of support.” Everyone gets in line and behind. The consensus tells you that there's a return for your investment.

But to me it feels sometimes like we’re all looking at the same thing. In the case of Portland, is it that small of a town that every single art writer writes about the same show? Or does that particular artist just have a terribly efficient PR battalion?

So many shows, but very few written about and it can feel like there are only 50 artists here. Of course cream rises to the top, but it gets dull. I am always reading about someone “breaking the boundaries” and “challenging the notions" of some thing or other. Maybe the artists are doing that, but the art writers are often not.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


“I liked the boys and the boys liked me.” – Lana Turner

A few years ago I wrote about the use of white in Bodyheat: two lovers conspire to kill a husband. I was convinced that it was Kathleen Turner’s floating white ensembles – one after another throughout the film – which lured the man into murder. At the time I was clueless that Bodyheat was fashioned after early film noir like The Postman Always Rings Twice of 1946. In Postman, Lana Turner is also wearing all white as she conspires with a lover to kill her husband.

Recently as I passed by a group of books on display in the library, I came across the big and juicy Lana: The Memories, The Myths, The Movies. Spellbound from the start, I realized that this book was a part of the library’s celebration of National Women’s History Month only as I left with the volume in my clutches. It felt like a private victory and joke because I’ve already heard the spiel about how women like scientists and politicians would work in a target, but here was the library egging me on.

And I had just had a conversation with a friend about her: “Have you done Lana Turner yet?” he asked me. “No, but I want to -” I said. “I’ve got an image.” It’s a rather improbable version of the actress, when she takes on a brunette, Italian look. It proved to be unpopular with the fans so well trained toward the bleached bombshell box.

Hers is a complex story, a bigger drama than any she ever played. Yet the story told in this book by her daughter Cheryl Crane seems a bit circumspect to me - she breezily recounts whirlwind events as she slices in the husbands. No doubt the real goods of this book are the remarkable photographs and tidbits of a revolving door of famous men. There’s even a great shot of her with Andy Warhol – of course he was a big fan.

Louis B. Mayer of MGM has the nerve one day to shockingly point to Turner’s privates when she’s probably not even 25 yet, telling her she thinks of nothing else. Yet this focus is surely a major part of her (and the studio’s) success. Her first foray into film in 1937 is a mere walk full of jiggles in a sweater, the footage to launch the term “Sweater Girl.” At sixteen she doesn’t understand what is going on. Now they’re telling her a few years later that she thinks too much about sex?

Her endless smiles, clear joy and innocence still shine through year after year, no matter what is going on in her life. I find myself a bit sad that as I age, I cannot keep up this effervescent smile like she did. It was bittersweet to then read that in fact the aging Lana Turner could become “LT,” as they called her - someone not so easy inside her skin and the role of playing herself.

Some of us are not convinced that her daughter Cheryl killed Johnny Stompanato, her mother’s mob lover – not after we hear of all the black and blue fits of Turner, of ashtrays thrown, hospitalizations and feisty divorces delivered on a dime. Crane’s writing is gracious and she doesn’t seem to have inherited her mother’s hot head. But of course Crane does not live in the pressure cooker of beautiful legs, a flawless face and hair which is living sculpture in its own right.

I see my own mother in Lana Turner – some of the same costume jewelry, the turbans, the stance. And like Turner, Mom couldn’t always handle the flame that high heels, push-up bras and great legs provide. Because when in doubt, marry the man, no matter how many there are. The alternative can be a rougher ride.