Category Archives: Portland Art Museum

Kate Hunt – Congressional Record


Kate Hunt, Congressional Record (2013), nails, twine, and encaustic

There’s a sort of literalness to the visual of a stack of documents that have been cut, fused together, and nailed through. But the underlying idea strikes me as timely and substantive. Kate Hunt’s Congressional Record is a representation and a reminder of how so much information quite quickly becomes inaccessible. Sometimes it’s not actually inaccessible; you can, after all, look up government documents even though most of us never do. But sometimes it really is impossible to revisit information once it has flowed past. In an age when we tend to think of information as immaterial it’s welcome to see it rendered hyper-material.


Kate Hunt – Above the Couch


Kate Hunt, Above the Couch (2012), Newspaper and steel, 12″ x 59″ x 10″. On view at Portland Art Museum (Apex) until August 31, 2014.


Kate Hunt, Above the Couch (detail)

Kate Hunt’s Above the Couch is a layered, wall mounted sculpture made out of newspaper threaded on metal rods and then soaked in water. Apparently she even ages her sculptures outdoors through the Montana winter. The effect is a wonderful mix of the ephemeral and the monumental. Her sculptures begin with the daily newspaper, a perhaps vanishing cultural form, and then gives them a geological weight and permanence. For me her work recalls some of Richard Serra’s early sculpture and also softer work by the likes of Eva Hesse. There’s also something a bit morbid and sad about the piece as it is a record or an embalming of time, a highly compressed bundling of your daily reading and recycling.

Bue Kee – Owl


Bue Kee, Owl (1939), ceramic, on view at Portland Art Museum

Bue Kee’s Owl (1939) might just be Portland’s original piece of vaguely kitschy yet cute and charming bird art. Long before Portlandia and the “put a bird on it” craze there was Kee’s ceramic owl. Kee was a Chinese American who lived and worked in Oregon and who was involved in a number of WPA projects, including Timberline Lodge. This piece is currently in the US General Services Administration Fine Arts Collection. We’ll never know whether this is the ur crafty bird of Portland and it probably doesn’t matter. But I did find myself indulging in some unnatural historical musings: What did this owl that would fit right in at any number of local stores look like in 1939? Did it come off as classy or whimsical, odd or mainstream?

Jacci Den Hartog – Peach Blossom Spring


Jacci Den Hartog (American, born 1962), Peach Blossom Spring, 1994, polyurethane over plaster and steel. On view at Portland Art Museum.

Den Hartog’s Peach Blossom Spring, a vertically oriented wall-sculpture of polyurethane over plaster and steel, teeters between the beautiful and the grotesque. It looks something like a traditional Chinese landscape painting that has been rendered in three dimensions and then coated in a thick, gloppy layer of polyurethane. The polyurethane is, itself, beautiful but it also piques one’s curiosity about what lies beneath. David Pagel, in a review from 1996 notes that these are examples of “landscape sculpture” a small genre and that they resemble “the unlikely offspring of Chinese landscape painting and tacky restaurant decorations (especially those found in Los Angeles’s Chinatown, where faux, mini-waterfalls gurgle over plastic rocks and synthetic moss, cascading into ponds filled with samplings of the fish on the menu).” Some insight into the sculpture’s beautiful landscape partially obscured and abstracted by a coating of polyurethane may come from the traditional Chinese fable Peach Blossom Spring Story, about a fisherman who discovers a utopia but is then unable to locate it again. Beauty is ephemeral and often fully accessible only once.

Chris McCaw – Sunburned GSP #428 (Sunset, Sunrise, Arctic Circle, Alaska)

Chris McCaw, Sunburned GSP #428 (Sunset, Sunrise, Arctic Circle, Alaska), 2010
Unique gelatin silver paper negatives
On view at Portland Art Museum (Dusk through Dawn), Dec. 21 – Mar. 16, 2014


Sunburned GSP #428 (Sunset, Sunrise, Arctic Circle, Alaska) is a beautiful and shocking triptych of photographs, at once meditative and violent. Part of McCaw’s Sunburn series these photos are actually unique images made by directly exposing photographic paper. McCaw explains that by placing “the paper in my film holder, in place of film, I create a one of a kind paper negative.” With a long exposure time, the sun has burned an arc across the three photos. For me most unsettling and interesting is the contrast between the peaceful seeming, atmospheric landscape and the burn that cuts through it. McCaw is keenly interested in the history of photography and I suspect he’s aiming to call our attention to the relationship between beauty and what might be seen as the violence of photography which fixes time and turns moving light into static images. But it also strikes me that there’s a real playfulness (both intellectual and physical) to these photos. After all, McCaw admits: “My favorite part is watching smoke come out of the camera during the exposure and the faint smell of roasted marshmallows as the gelatin cooks!

Alfred Monner – Tree Presence


Alfred Monner, Tree Presence, 1953
Gelatin Silver Print
On view at Portland Art Museum (Dusk through Dawn), Dec. 21 – Mar. 16, 2014

I must confess that I don’t know how this photo was made or even exactly what it depicts, but I like it very much. At first I thought it was a single branch but after some harder looking I think I it’s a tree or parts of several trees viewed from below (downhill) and lit from the side. I like that it’s hard to find my visual footing. Much as I’m not sure whether I’m looking at a branch or an entire tree, this photo pulls towards vast and microscopic associations. At once it looks like an aerial view of an estuary and a microscopic view of some sort of crystalline structure. I suppose I’d like to know how it’s made but I’ll settle for the pleasure of looking at it.

Sue Coe – Feedlot


Sue Coe, Feedlot, 1991
On view at Portland Art Museum (Jan. 11 – May 4, 2014)

Looking at Sue Coe’s Feedlot you get some sense of the scale and sweep of conventional meat production and its energy intensiveness. In the foreground the cattle are individuated and you can see eyes and faces, while towards the background the animals become abstracted elements in a swirling, sweeping pattern. Some of the curves and formations resemble pistons, wheels, and other machine elements. Perhaps most intriguing is the lone human figure, standing with his back to the spectator in the foreground of the print. This print is not as shocking or brutal as it easily could be, perhaps to get us to look a bit longer and contemplate this sweeping tableau and where we fit in it.

Corey Arnold – Raccoon Costume


Corey Arnold, Raccoon Costume (1999)
On view at Portland Art Museum, From Dusk to Dawn: Photography at the Edges of Daylight (Dec. 21 – Mar. 16, 2014)

Corey Arnold’s Raccoon Costume offers a sort of mirror image of the shock we feel when – in the suburbs or the city – we suddenly find ourselves face-to-face with a wild animal. The raccoon and presumably also the human taking the photograph seem to be asking what the other is doing here where they don’t belong. A photo like this is funny and clever but it also seems to be getting at something more serious: as our suburbs continue to spread and as our cities become more hospitable to animals such human-animal encounters are becoming more and more common. Will we learn to better share territory and space with animals?

Camille Pissarro – Marché aux legumes , à Pontoise


Camille Pissarro – Marché aux legumes , à Pontoise (1891)
On view at Portland Art Museum (Jan. 11 – May 4, 2014)

This Pissarro etching, Marché aux legumes, à Pontoise reminds me that the present may not be so special or unique. In this nineteenth-century market scene much seems similar to, say, the PSU farmer’s market. The print, a closely framed cut out of what is presumably a much larger tableau, contains a sense of energy and motion – a sort of about-to-happenness. Yes, people buy vegetables, but they also talk and simply walk, enjoying seeing and being seen. OK, maybe there’s no organic , artisanal pickles – but then again they’re might be: it’s hard to make out the details of the past.

Félix Bracquemond – from the Service Rousseau


Félix Bracquemond, Dinnerware from the Service Rousseau (1866-75)
Hand-painted earthenware with transfer-printed designs
On view at Portland Art Museum (Jan. 11 – May 4, 2014)

Here is something charming and whimsical from “Feast and Famine: The Pleasures and Politics of Food” at Portland Art Museum (discussions of some more weighty works will be coming up next). This dinner service, created by Félix Bracquemond for Henri Rousseau looks contemporary and fresh. It makes me smile and I’d love to serve dinner on it. A nice extra layer is that this was commissioned by Henri Rousseau, a tax collector turned artist who painted flat and expressionistic jungle scenes inspired not by visits to distant lands but to the zoo. For me it’s also nice reminder that we’ve been looking to the natural world for decoration and filtering it through our cultural predilections for a long, long time. It’s not just in today’s world of Etsy, hipster craftiness, and Portlandia’s “put a bird on it” that we like to have animals join us for dinner.

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