Monday, January 10, 2011

As I made my way to First Thursday, I was thinking about the comment made in class about Portland being “provincial.” Growing up in Iowa has given me a bit of a chip on my shoulder about this idea. I always thought that midwestern art is viewed as unsophisticated by the people on the coasts, regardless of the sophistication (or lack of it) in the work itself. By the same token, I’ve never thought it was necessary to keep up with the latest critical theories in academia in order to make good art. What is it about Portland that makes it provincial?

Then I wandered in to the Attic gallery. As you enter the doorway, you are greeted by a large sculpture of a dog, “Canus Gigantus,” by Joseph Warren. About a yard high, it is made entirely of rusty old tools welded together. This is a neat trick, but one I’ve seen before. The sculpture did not seem to be based on observation, or reflect anything in particular about the spirit of it’s subject, although its static, symmetrical pose did suggest weight. While I don’t think it’s necessary to be first in order to make interesting art, I don’t think Joseph Warren pushed past the obvious enough to make this concept his own. Is this what is meant by “provincial”?

In this same gallery, seemingly by the hundreds, are the ceramic sculptures of Lilli Faville. Faville seems to have found a formula for mass production, as the majority of the sculptures varied little except for color and scale. Aside from a few people and mushrooms, they were of a cartoony cat/dog creature with a wide grinning mouth. Eyes and nose were incised into the clay, rather than sculpted, and were always done the same way. A simple triangle for the nose, and two pointed ovals for eyes. The sheer number of them could have made for an interesting psychological effect if arranged together, but instead they seemed to have been randomly placed around the gallery. While I respect artists that come back to recurring themes, this seemed to me the work of someone with no curiosity.

Suspecting the gift shop atmosphere in the Attic Gallery was putting me in a bad mood, I followed a group of German tourists for a while to more posh galleries before wondering off on my own. Eventually I ended up in a part of the Pearl more populated by people drinking PBR than white wine. I’m not sure whether this made me more comfortable or not but I eventually find something I liked. A gallery big enough to hold about five people at a time contained three sound installations/sculptures that at first seemed to be almost nothing. A framed piece of sound insulating foam, a string nailed to the wall amplified through a cheap guitar amp, and a microphone and scarf hung above a blowing fan. The sound the microphone picked up was somehow different than I expected, and quite different than the ambient sound of the room. I enjoyed the contrast between the almost careless look of the piece with what seemed to me to be a quietly thoughtful concept. Unfortunately, I lost both the name of the gallery and the artist. I’m not even sure I could find the place again, which is too bad because it seemed like the kind of place that could be gone by the time the next First Thursday rolls around.

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