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Category Archives: Exhibition Reviews


Laurie Simmons, “Big Camera, Small Camera,” silver gelatin print, 1977

This was indeed a pivotal moment for art. Pictures Generation features women who entered the art world at levels equal in importance to their male counterparts for the first time. Often, they surpassed men in terms of invention and impact. Most of the women—Kruger, Levine, Lawler, Sherman, Charlesworth, Bloom and Laurie Simmons—worked with photographic imagery, partly because photography was still regarded as a bastard child of art. This was a field they could have pretty much to themselves, while gaining the support, rather than the envy, of the bad-boy painters around them.

“I turned to photography because I thought it was the dominant language of our culture,” says Charlesworth, who is represented in the show by photographs from her first two series of newspaper appropriation works, “Modern History” (1978) and “Stills” (1977). “I remember seeing Richard Prince’s first show at Anina Nosei and thinking, ‘Oh! This guy is interested in the same stuff I am,’” Charlesworth recalls. “Photography suited the things we wanted to address.”

Prince, the token male in the New York group, was taking a critical approach to appropriated photographs, most famously of the romantic Marlboro Man cowboy. But no man in the 1970s could have made Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-80). Nearly a dozen works from the series are in the Met show. Here, Sherman presents female movie stereotypes with a caustic humor that mocks the way men fantasized about women, while giving women who internalize those stereotypes a sharp poke in the ribs.

Bloom remembers seeing Levine’s appropriated Walker Evans photos and thinking, “Oh my God, that is so radical and so insane. It was also brilliant. Sherrie didn’t address any of the esthetic issues, just narrowed it down to the most essential idea about what constitutes ownership of an image, and that was it.”

Read “Photo Play” in its entirety at the Art in America website

The Pictures Generation at the Met

via AFC

Chen QuilinChen Quilin, from the Garden series, 2007. From China Urban at Reed College.

Readers of the Oregonian might have spotted a few of my reviews in the paper last month. This new gig is particularly exciting to me for two reasons: I haven’t penned local reviews on a regular basis in a few years, and the O is the only daily I’ve ever written for. So far, they’ve been great editors and have been more than generous with their creative allowances, so I’m excited to help the paper expand its critical presence in the local art community.

The three pieces I’ve written so far can be read by following the links below:

Review: Susan Seubert at Froelick Gallery

In its best moments, Seubert’s balancing act of horror and beauty yields artworks that are exquisitely tense and captivating. At other times, though, the two qualities work against each other, creating the sensation that the photos want their proverbial cake and to eat it, too.

“Science/Fiction,” Seubert’s sixth show with Charles Froelick, walks this tightrope with a lighter touch than we’ve come to expect, and employs an array of techniques and strategies to explore notions of home and family, scientific achievement, natural beauty and — just to keep things interesting — mass annihilation.

A Short Editorial Recap of Photolucida

While the Portland nonprofit has garnered a stellar national reputation for serving the needs of its conference attendees, Photolucida is still figuring out its relationship to the local community. While early incarnations of the biennial emphasized citywide exhibitions and public photography events, the increasing popularity of its portfolio reviews has made it even harder for the small organization to organize broader programming.

Review: China Urban at Reed College

Chen Qiulin’s video cycle and color photographs bear poetic witness to the demolition of her hometown, which was flattened and flooded to make way for the [Three Gorges] Dam. Beginning with “Bei Fu,” Qiulin intersperses footage of Wanzhou’s destruction with operatic vignettes of costumed characters engaged in their own destructive dramas. Subsequent videos continue this blend of documentary and performance practices, casting the regions’ drowning death as the central arc of Qiulin’s epic Chinese opera. The artist’s most recent video, “Garden,” follows two migrant workers as they haul cumbersome vases of artificial peonies by foot on an all-day journey through the dense, hazy city. However unnatural, their pink floral arrangements are bright explosions of color in the dingy landscape of overpasses and narrow alleyways.

I’ll skip the groveling and self-flagellation that usually follow stretches of blog blackout to say that paying gigs and personal sanity (rightfully) took priority over all of my passion projects, including That’s a Negative, although I remain dedicated to developing this site. The past six weeks or so found life too overcrowded for everything, so blogging had to take the backseat for a late summer break. (As did blog-reading; my Google Reader overfloweth.)

Out of necessity, my original goal of reviewing each of these shows was revised to the idea of having one long essay that somehow encapsulated all of the exhibitions. Unfortunately, that ship has already sailed. For the sake of wiping the e-slate clean and unshackling myself from the burden of reviews not yet written, here is a roll-call of everything I have intended to write about during this period of inactivity. In many cases, I really regret not being able to expound on my notes and thoughts, but I’d be working on this post until the Obama victory if I took the time to do so. I’m still on deadline and desperately short on time, but circumstances are conspiring to give me a little more blogging time very soon. Here, then, are the things I would have reviewed in a more perfect world.

In Portland:

Emi Anrakuji: IPY at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art

Andy O’Brien: “Star Maps: (l-r) Spike Jones, Nicolas Cage, Don Johnson” at Newspace’s Annual Juried Exhibition (Full disclosure: I bought the Nic Cage piece)

Melody Owen: Alexandria, I’m Waiting at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

In Seattle:

Isaac Layman: Photographs from Inside a Whale at Lawrimore Project. (My favorite show of the season; I must write about Layman soon.)

Gregory Blackstock: Vernacular Photography at Garde Rail

New Photo: Richard Barnes, Martin Klimas, and Fred Muram at Howard House (Fred Muram, “One Day I Will Learn to Build Things” pictured)

Ask a Banana, Baby: Swedish Contemporary Video and Photography at Howard House (Annika von Hausswolff, “A Given Moment in the History of Coming into Being” pictured)

Smoke & Mirrors at the Seattle Art Museum (through Nov 9)
A really well curated group show from the museum collection, exploring depictions of and experiments about ephemerality in photography, featuring Muybridge, Sugimoto, Nagatani, and many others. Titled for Eileen Quinlan’s photos of smoke and mirrors—many of which I like very much. (Quinlan, “Smoke & Mirrors #10” pictured)

Mark Soo “That’s That’s Alright Alright Mama Mama,” c-prints, 3-D glasses, and angled wall at Western Bridge‘s You Complete Me

In San Francisco:

The Art of Lee Miller at SFMOMA (through Sept 14)

Double Exposure: African Americans Before and Behind the Camera at the Museum of the African Diaspora (Roy DeCarava, “Couple Dancing” pictured) (through Sept 28)

Amy Stein: Domesticated at Paul Kopeikin Gallery

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #55,” digital c-print, 2008

A relentlessly cheerful treatise on grotesque post-human fantasies, Daniel Barron’s A Numb Hinge is one of the most provocative, sly, arresting, and sensual photography shows I’ve seen in Portland. In a remarkably conservative photography climate (local and national) that continues to favor “straight” photography (in color and with a 4×5, please), Barron’s abstract, digitally-assisted creations of fleshy pink cavities, wet eyelids, broken blood vessels, and bubbly glycerin tubes push the medium toward new aesthetic and technological territories.

The statement that accompanies A Numb Hinge indicates that technology is at the fore of Barron’s artistic concerns. But his interest isn’t in Photoshop’s ability to create fantasies that look, by all measure, strictly photographic, as his do. (I am not privy to how the images in A Numb Hinge were made, nor do I think it’s a particularly relevant question.) The artist is interested in the unemotional nature of scientific advance; how the beneficial effects of penicillin on bacterial infections and the destructive reactions of nuclear fission are, in and of themselves, entirely impersonal. Technology, by this way of thinking, can be seen as “an emotionally unresponsive, indifferent device on which subsequent events depend”—e.g., a “numb hinge,” which, unscrambled, reveals itself as “human being.”

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #57,” digital c-print, 2008

Rarely, however, has cyborgian impassivity been so fun: If the soulless detachment of a post-human future has typically been imagined as fatalistic outcome, whether by Phillip K. Dick or Aziz + Cucher, Barron takes a different tact. A Numb Hinge envisions our fleshy future, in which bloodshot eyeballs occupy meaty knuckle sockets, as a consumerist idyll-a technological advance that can be beautified, photographed, and marketed like a Prada handbag.

“A Numb Hinge #55” exemplifies Barron’s gleeful, pop aesthetic approach to these quasi-scientific, disquietingly graphic subjects. With unflinching verisimilitude, “#55” depicts a fleshy object of Barron’s photo-digital creation: A human eyelid (though not attached to any larger skull), opens itself to accommodate a shimmering tube of ice, which slides into the orifice almost pornographically. (Pubic hair, however, has been replaced here by dew-y eyelashes, which are photographed with immaculate clarity.) The eye-socket aperture is presented as a cropped fragment of a larger whole that we can’t discern, although one can see that another similar eyehole exists at an unnatural 90 degree angle to the first, like a fleshy, pink, elbow joint. An un-readable attachment protrudes from the left side of the object, connected either by a honey-colored resin or a natural sap. “#55” is a speculative vision of mad science at play-the human body as a purely mechanical system that can be genetically and physically adapted to accommodate oblique, inhuman purposes.

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #52,” digital c-print, 2008

It’s not the subject matter that makes “#55” so remarkable, however: It’s Barron’s treatment and presentation of the material. If and when the artist’s vision of all-out post-human anatomical modification is realized, we can be sure that the idea will be sold to us (subconsciously) as a technological advance capable of ensuring that we (a) never have to die, and (b) have a good shot at getting laid. The skin in “#55,” as in all of the pieces in A Numb Hinge, is flawlessly nubile—pink, blemish-free, unwrinkled flesh that evidently repels water so that it beads up and cascades off, like a Man Ray teardrop or an opaquely shellacked D’Anjou pear, coated in a light mist of water before the catalog photographer shoots it. Whatever they may graphically depict, the real messages of A Numb Hinge‘s body parts are “sex” and “youth.” If the throbbing penetration of the wet tube into the tight, slippery opening of “#55” was too subtle for audiences, the small protrusion of a lapping, curved flesh-mound attends to the base of the shaft like a tiny tongue. (The bubbly, icy tube, all the while, looks like the sum manifestation of Wilson Bryan Key‘s hysteria about subliminal images erections and skulls allegedly being airbrushed into beverage advertisements in the 1970s.) If any doubt should linger about Barron’s advertorial approach, “#55’s” background of hazy, candy-colored stripes promises a bright, carefree future that carries the aesthetic hopes of both psychedelic transcendence and an afternoon of retail therapy at the mall.

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #52,” digital c-print, 2008

These strategies recur throughout A Numb Hinge. “#52” shows the “head” of a meaty flesh-worm, whose slippery surface is closer to the lining inside your mouth than the flesh on your palms. The center of the slimy, pink tube nestles a strange, flecked, yellow and green ball that could be both a citrus rind and a diseased eyeball. Repulsive on one hand, the form’s oozy tactility begs to be poked and fingered. In the background, we can make out slightly unfocused, similar forms, included in the photograph as if to assure viewers that scarcity is no issue, and that there’s enough for everybody, including you. As with many of Barron’s pieces, there is a large portion of the composition left mostly blank, which good editorial and commercial photographers know, is always appreciated by picture editors and art directors who need a spot to include the sales pitch.

Formally and technically, Barron’s attention to detail is meticulous. When one of his watery, glycerin tubes penetrates a bodily orifice, the tonal reflections of the skin are rendered in the bubbly with impeccable, rippley precision. These images withstand the closest scrutiny, and never betray their digital seams or in-camera trickery. The photographs’ uncanny realism is responsible for the squeamish response they invoke, but it’s the artists’ use of ultrasoft lighting and tender chromatics that make the images in A Numb Hinge so undeniably seductive. Barron’s beauty is of the repulsive variety, and he’s adept at teasing out the carnal elements of grotesquerie. These fantastic subjects may indeed be numb to the banalities of their own applications, but Barron is too deftly attuned to our propensity for novelty and our evolutionary mechanisms of desire to allow us to remain unmoved by the numb hinge of progress.

A Numb Hinge is on view at Pushdot Studio, 1021 SE Caruthers, Mon-Fri, through July 25.
Daniel Barron dot com

Nicole Jean Hill, “Hissing Cockroach,” 2006, c-print

Blue Sky made efficient use of their three galleries this month with just as many exhibitions: Karen Glaser documented the wild kingdom; KayLynn Deveney made a portrait of solitary domestic life; and Nicole Jean Hill managed to unify them both in Home Turf.

Karen Glaser, \Glaser’s murky underwater landscapes, shot in the swamps near her Florida home, were hit-or-miss for me at best. It was refreshing to see someone use a color palette of dusky pinks, moss greens, and hazy azures that’s far more painterly than most of what we see today; I only wish I actually liked it better. “Ethereal swampiness” all too often gave way to “melon-y ocher” in the chromatics department. Some of the pieces, such as “Dust Storm” (pictured here) and “Turtle Hop” approached that elusive magical zone, but too many failed to transcend the genre of artful nature photography.

Several years ago, KayLynn Deveney moved into a South Wales apartment and met Albert Hastings, an elderly man who does all the things elderly men tend to do: feed pigeons, eat lunch, sit and reminisce, etc. Deveney adopted Bert as her muse, and recently published her extended portrait of Hastings in book form. Deveney attempted to emulate the rhythms of flipping through the book by hanging dry-mounted prints of varying sizes in a scattered fashion on the gallery wall. I’m not against this approach on principle, but in Deveney’s case, it made it hard to zero in on any of the stronger images, of which there were an unfortunate few. The project’s “hook” is that Bert hand-wrote autobiographical captions, which the photographer says, “create a new context for (her) photographs.” But scrawled captions like “Ironing my laundry,” “Enjoying my evening whiskey,” and “Shaving before going out” didn’t exactly blow open the doors of perception.

Thankfully, Nicole Jean Hill’s large-format color prints of exotic “critters” in their terrariums and assorted coops saved the day. Like an entomological version of Adrienne Salinger‘s In My Room, Hill’s Home Turf focuses on the individual’s personal space as much as on the human (or animal) figure. Hill photos of domestic ferrets, scorpions, cockateils, and iguanas go a step farther, though, to provide a glancing portrait of the pet owners, as seen through their own living spaces. When I first saw “Fire Eyes” (pictured here) at Newspace a few years ago, I flipped my lid for it (as did Amy Stein a few months ago on her blog), but seeing a gallery full of Hill’s critter pictures got a little repetitious. She doesn’t vary her framing or lighting too much, and this uniformity works against the photographs. Hill has also made extensive series on greyhounds and showbirds; a nice mix from these three series would have made for a more interesting exhibition. About half of her photos were total knockouts though, and virtually impossible not to love. (“Fire Eyes” definitely stands the test of time!) In an otherwise underwhelming month at Blue Sky, Nicole Jean Hill—tucked way in the back gallery—makes a trip to the gallery totally worthwhile before the exhibition closes this weekend.

Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW 8th, Tues-Sun, shows end June 29.

Dave Schubert, “Lips,” 2007, silver gelatin print

This morning I filed my short review of small A project‘s final Portland exhibition, the goofily named but otherwise fantastic Every Picture Tells a Story… Or At Least is a Picture. Curated by local art stars Chris Johanson and Jo Jackson (neither of whom are photographers themselves), Every Picture presents an exciting and challenging collection of photographs, almost all of which were new to me. There’s no clear central theme that runs through the show, and it feels like Jackson and Johanson took the liberty of spotlighting a dozen photographers whose work they really admire. It’s always fun when artists do this, but I had a hard time writing about the actual exhibition in 430 scant words, so I thought I’d turn to the web instead. Every Picture introduced me to a slew of photographers I was unfamiliar with, so I thought I’d pass the introductions on, along with a few notes from my gallery visit.

“Lips,” by Dave Schubert (pictured above), competed with an untitled Terry Richardson for the outstanding stand-alone photo award. (More on Richardson later.) Schubert occupies that fourth-generation Nan Goldin zone of seedy lifestyle photography, wherein photographs of sex acts, drug consumption, and beautiful losers mingle with occasional still-lives and landscapes. Most are forgettable, but “Lips” shines like a full moon on a cloudy night: appearing briefly like a noir-ish mirage of lust and romance, before being swallowed back into the darkness. Curiously, the 16×20″ silver gelatin print is unique, so there’s no chance of scooping one up cheaply down the line.

Elieen Quinlan, “Smoke & Mirrors #13,” 2005, UV laminated chromogenic print mounted on Sintra

Eileen Quinlan was represented by three photographs from her “Smoke & Mirrors” series, which actually works better for me in jpeg format than in person. The concept is simple: Basing her abstractions on the two fabled ingredients of trickery and deception, Quinlan made hundreds of photographs of those two malleable, unfixed elements: smoke and mirrors. Her larger black and white prints of razor-sharp lines, tonal gradations, and wafty hazes recall Jan Groover’s formal commitment to abstracting sporks and cereal bowls, as well as certain elements of Eastern and Central European Modernism. As if to demonstrate the “nothing up my sleeve” aspect of the work, Quinlan accentuates the small flaws in her work by touching up the white areas with black SpotTone (sure to make all photo purists convulse in agony). I’d like these better if they actually looked a little nicer, but the smaller emerald green print is the only one that didn’t look like a half-finished darkroom experiment. (To be fair, Google turns up some examples that appear stronger than what was on view in Portland.)

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Claudia Faehrenkemper, “Head of a Beetle,” 1996, from New on the Wall

The Portland Art Museum’s scattershot showcase of recent acquisitions, New on the Wall, comes down this Sunday. I’ve bitched about this exhibition enough for one lifetime, so I’ll just direct your attention to my review for the Portland Mercury, in which I summon my signature brand of levelheaded compassion to speculate that “curating this show must have been about as difficult as creating an iTunes playlist.”

New on the Wall, Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park, closes Sun June 15, $10.

Holly Andres, “Behind the Old Painting,” 2007, C-Print at Quality Pictures Contemporary Art.

Nineteen months ago, in a review of a dismal survey of contemporary Portland photography at Clark College, I wrote the following: “Holly Andres, Portland’s most celebrated young photographer, is here with her (very familiar) hyper-posed, artificially lit scenes of pre-adolescent suburban ennui… They’re so stylized that I frequently feel like I’m looking at a Kate Spade ad rather than fine art. Beyond their initial appeal, the photographs, like their sheltered subjects, appear to be trapped in a stylistic black hole of vacuity.” Ungenerous as these sentiments are, I still can’t see clear to retracting them.

Andres’ new show at Quality Pictures, however, has made a believer out of me. In a body of work far more sophisticated and seductive than anything she’s previously exhibited, Andres has harnessed her technical prowess and narrative vision for Sparrow Lane, latest chapter in her ongoing, wordless novel.

Thematically and conceptually, there is little to distinguish Sparrow Lane from Andres’ earlier work. As before, she artfully composes dramatic, domestic tableaux with a decidedly upper-class, feminine flavor: There are lots of snappy retro outfits, vintage porcelain antiques, old-money wallpaper patterns, and bursts of pink. In these storybook settings, three girls—most notably a mesmerizing tween with skin and eyelashes the shade of vellum—explore adolescent and natural mysteries with a degree of artifice that can’t help but allude to post-Crewdson, Yalie theatricality.

What has changed from Andres’ earlier work, however, is the artist’s thoughtful and deliberate use of color, the complexity of her compositions, and her ability to conjure natural performances from her models. In all of these areas, Andres has grown dramatically as an artist, making Sparrow Lane her most rich and satisfying work to date. It’s worth noting, too, that scaling the C prints down from a mounted 40×50” to a handsomely framed 20×24” brings the stories back down to a human level, brings viewers in close for a more intimate reading, and generally returns the focus to the substance, rather than the style, of the images.

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Stephen Berkman, “Obscura Object,” Engraving

Stephen Berkman’s installation at Blue Sky, Predicting the Past, signaled an ambitious leap for the non-profit, who has only recently begun to exhibit properly framed work on a regular basis. An exhibition of prints, sculptures, and video is a change of pace that merits a round of applause for the traditional-leaning Blue Sky. Predicting the Past would have been the ideal show to inaugurate their new gallery space last summer, rather than the abbreviated version of Mark Klett’s Third View we got, as Berkman’s crowd-pleasing camera gags operate as great primers to some of the principles and histories of photography, and would have let Portland know that Blue Sky had some interesting plans up their sleeves for their handsome new home.

Berkman ardently loves the proto-photography optical devices of the 19th century—camera obscuras and lucidas, as well as issues that arose for the earliest wave of photographers, including the challenges of monocular vision, the alchemy of the new medium, the contradictions of techno-vision in the Transcendentalist age, and, more flatly, what exactly, the role of the photographer should be. Berkman touches on these issues with varying degrees of success in his humorous works, which reveal an almost fetishistic affection (or affectation) for antiquity.

Charmed by the marvelous diagrams and illustrations of camera obscuras throughout the ages (1), Berkman cleverly reimagines these technologies as anthropomorphic tools of vision—surrogate, almost cyborgian eyes to replace man’s own. It’s an astute interpretation of the effects that cameras have had on the act of looking, and Berkman’s engraving the the Dress Obscura is realistic and silly enough to work.

Presumably his obscura objects of this sort are all female because it’s too hard to climb inside a trouser leg. Searching for gender significance beyond that pragmatism—the image of the child disappearing under his mother’s dress, the lens casting a somehow “female” vision, the sexual titilation of disappearing underneath a dark cloth—all lead to unsatisfactory stretches, and one realizes that it’s probably best not to overthink these pieces, which is hardly a happy realization in an art gallery. I’ll not spend too much time wondering, then, why these objects have lifelike hands extending from the dress sleeves, or for that matter, what Berkman is trying to express with these, besides creating well-crafted, quasi-educational art history gags.

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Weng Naiqiang, “Reading from the Quotations of Chairman Mao,” 1966

The May/June issue of ART PAPERS came in the mail yesterday, with my review of FotoFest’s Photography from China right there on pp. 48-9. The review isn’t online, but if you have plenty of time to kill, you can read my longer, three-part writeup at Glasstire. [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3] Or, of course, there’s the option of picking up a hard copy of the magazine.

Aside from a rundown of the mostly incredible work, here’s the nutshell version of my piece: Trying to understand contemporary Chinese photography (or anything else) without knowing about its history is like hearing a poem in a foreign language. You might pick up on pleasant-sounding words, but you won’t have any real idea what the person is talking about. Unfortunately, our culture is marked by unrestrained consumption at the moment, and our demand for the most novel and nubile of everything has resulted in a pandemic, unhealthy disregard for history.

As my friend Jon wrote, “To hell with the New… It’s getting clearer all the time that most of what passes for the New is just a way of forgetting what really matters.”

Wu Jialin Yunnan Province, n.d.