phile under: art museum

Review: Shine a Light

By Lisa Radon September 21, 2009


Was the girl on her boyfriend’s shoulders waving her hands in front of the security camera in the lobby part of "Stranger Moments at the Museum" by Avalon Kalin and Cyrus Smith or just an exuberant visitor caught up in the freedom of the night?

Whatever was going on inside the Portland Art Museum on Saturday night for Shine a Light: A Night at the Museum, the most notable thing was that the doors were wide open with a continual flow of people in and out. The doors from the Jubitz Center into the Mark Building were even open (shocked!). The Museum—the building itself and all of its art—has been longing for this, an evening pulsing with people and sound and activity. I relish a quiet moment with my beloved Robert Irwin disc, but I can have that any day. This event demonstrated that the Museum is a living, breathing, thing (something that those of us not intimately involved with its workings forget); that both its blood and its raison d’etre are the people who built it, who guide it, who make it work, and who course through its galleries.

A partnership between the Museum (thanks to Christina Olsen) and the MFA program at PSU, Shine a Light liberally sprinkled, music, performance, lecture, object making, and more throughout the museum.

We arrived early and it was already hopping. We saw Katy Asher chatting with the extraordinary Doris Ennis, the 35 year volunteer at the Museum who selected two groupings of objects which Asher and Helen Reed bundled into a special self-guided tour that was wonderful. (If you missed it, see if you can still get a brochure from Katy.)

Jonathan Sielaff and Christopher Doulgeris at Shine A Light at the Portland Art Museum.

We headed to the second floor with our Doris Ennis guide in hand and heard the strains of a clarinet which we followed to the Native American galleries to find that the city’s most artful reed player, Jonathan Sielaff, was readying to play a duo with Hooliganship’s Christopher Doulgeris, a pleasant surprise. Together at dusk they played a brief, melancholy serenade for one of the transformation masks in the collection. While the performances throughout the night animated the galleries in magical ways, it was thanks to the smart choices of Ariana Jacob and the

Did Harrell Fletcher and crew figure out their technical difficulties in trying to grab photos from your cell phone to print out and hang on the wall in the photo gallery in the Jubitz Center? Did many folks give over an hour or so of their time to learn about pigments? Very interesting, but would love to engage that on a different, less social night. Was anyone else besides me mesmerized by Cyrus Smith’s projection in the Whitsell of feeds from the Museum’s security cameras. I had to be dragged out of there.

Groove Nation Breakdance at Shine a Light.

If some of the work was conceptually squishy considering that it came out of an MFA program, together they were a set of authentic, well-executed responses. I was suitably awed by the biggest ikebana you’ll ever see commissioned for the event by Eric Steen and Groove Nation Breakdance who seriously killed it (at the invitation of Varinthorn Christopher). More than one might have hoped, even there was smart correspondence between works in the Museum and the events/performances that animated the space.

I loved the printing press that Zach Springer built. He and his Print Factory partners were hard at work all night letting the assembled pull fun prints. I cared less for the arty beer. I’m not enough of a beer afficionado to grasp the nuances in what the hops water might propose in response to a work of art. If there’s a lover who’d like to school me and give me a reading of individual brew as related to works in the collection, I’m curious. As it was, I bypassed the lengthy line.

I liked Avalon Kalin and Laurel Kurtz’s idea of dowsing to capture a work’s aura more than the net result which was gelling the uplights around the sculpture to have the lighting manifest the "aura." I’d met one of the gentlemen (Mike Downey and Tom Lauerman) who coached the dowsers years before and recalled his persuasive show-don’t-tell manner…he had a skeptic like me wire-in-hand before you knew it. But with the dowsing happening near the beer dispensary, I wouldn’t be surprised if results of energy detection with l-shaped lengths of wire might not have been skewed.

When we left we were captivated by the projection of the documentary on the making of the Teddy Roosevelt/Rough Rider statue in the SW Park Blocks onto the statue’s plinth. (Thank you NW Film Center.)

Thanks, in fact, to the Museum for embracing a new openness and to the PSU Social Practice MFA’ers for their projects. And while we can’t call the audience diverse, necessarily, I’m sure the Museum expanded its audience dramatically for the night. Here’s hoping the new visitors felt at home enough to return soon while the old guard embraces the new openness in future.

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