First Thursday: May Picks

Portraits of noble chickens, family monsters, rural fundamentalists, and ceramic clowns draw you out for a gloriously sunny First Thursday.

By Aaron Scott May 2, 2013

Augen Gallery
Romare Bearden: Prints
Jim Niedhardt: Luxe

A giant of contemporary art, Bearden is best known as a collagist—the New York Times called him the nation’s foremost. But with one collaged exception, Augen compiles a series of his lesser-celebrated prints, most from 1979. And they are lovely. Some depict scenes from the rural South in muted earthen tones and rough lines. But the highlights are the three from his Odyssey Suite, which portray famous scenes from the fated epic with brilliant hues that favor the primary colors. Sexuality seeps from the nubile sirens while Ulysses writhes tied to the mast of his ship in Siren’s Song, animal magnetism bristles in the fur of the man pigs in Cerce into Swine, and destruction dances like the geometric flames in The Fall of Troy.

Niedhardt’s pigment prints on rag give painterly texture to empty jewelry display cases, grave and mournful portraits of the fleeting emptiness of wealth.

Blue Sky Gallery
Lucas Foglia: A Natural Order
Tamara Staples:
The Magnificent Chicken
Foglia traveled the rural South to photograph individuals and families living off the grid. His subjects range from back-to-the-earthers in animal skins and teepees (one delightfully ironic shot depicts the inside of a thatch hut with a straw bed and a stack of National Geographics next to it) to fundamentalist, camo-wearing, anti-government types (one of my favorites being a young, homeschooled girl, her head hanging in exhaustion as she writes on a chalkboard filled by phrases like “New World Order” and “The end is near”). Foglia captures a world far from our northwest city life with incredible intimacy and honesty, creating a rather intense voyeuristic viewing experience (no doubt furthered by his favor for nudity). But while the trappings might be foreign, the emotion is poignantly human.

 People might be diverse, but chickens are downright sweeping in their variety. Staple’s show collects a series of portraits of prize-winning show birds in front of cloth backdrops. It’s so easy to personify the chicken, imbuing disco funk on the Bearded Buff Frizzle Polish Bantam Hen, who’s afro is so thick it hides his eyes, or stately nobility on the Self Blue Belgian Bearded D’anvers Cockerel, who puffs out his chest and utterly lacks for a neck. But while some of the fowl manage to transcend their chickenhood in Staple’s photos, such as the Lemon Blue Modern Game Bantam Pullet, whose grace is deserving of Balanchine, others seem stuck as one trick chix. This show will no doubt be a Portland hit.

And make sure you poke your head into the Nines gallery at the back of Blue Sky, where completely coincidentally, Renee Zangara’s Ruralization show includes large abstract impressionist paintings of, you guessed it, chickens (and other barnyard denizens).

Elizabeth Leach
Jaq Chartier: Ultra Marine
Claire Cowie: Unreliable Source
Both Seattle artists at Leach this month are displaying work that’s in transition from their previous shows. Revealing that no one medium can contain her, Cowie has added fantastical monster masks and photos to her increasingly surreal body of work. Her pen and watercolor pieces feel like twisted Day-glo, Edward Gorey–tinged adult fairy tales, where people and animals blend parts and livein houses suspended from trees. Her wall of cast urethane fingers is truly creepy (and wonderful), each finger pasty white and drained of blood, some with green mold under the nails or still oozing cuts. And while her masks are intriguing, the photographs of her family wearing them on the couch or at the beach feel amateur and out of place.

In a meditation on the ocean and climate change, Charier’s paintings have traded their light backgrounds for dark, and the once patterned and orderly bleeding color shapes are now curled and organic, feeling less like DNA electrophoreses and more like iridescent corral plants. But the incredibly flat, almost photograph beauty of the work remains.

PDX Contemporary
Cynthia Lahti: Elsewhere
Lahti’s new works, created during her residency last year at Berlin’s Zentrum für Keramik [Center for Ceramics], incorporate paper and archival images as sculptural components of her surrealist ceramics, dwelling particularly on circus themes. A full review to come next week.

Butters Gallery
Ted Katz: Questions

Longtime Portland painter Katz begins his small works with drawings before journeying into exquisitely colored abstractions of mixed media and water-based paint. Collected in an exhibition fittingly titled Questions, his meticulous paintings are enchantingly mysterious in a way that defies their small size.

The Japanese Garden
Isamu Noguchi: We Are the Landscape of All We Know

There are few modern artists who can match the scope, size, and significance of Isamu Noguchi’s oeuvre. Working across mediums and movements, he bridged East and West, contemporary and traditional, in sculptures, ceramics, gardens, architecture, and set, furniture, and lighting designs. His massive public sculptures ring the globe, from Los Angeles to Jerusalem; his iconic designs for Herman Miller are still sold in stores; and all of his creations shape the spaces they inhabit with the purity and meaning of a Zen garden. “Everything is sculpture,” he once said. “Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.”

As part of its yearlong 50th anniversary, the Japanese Garden’s exhibition will feature 22 pieces spanning Noguchi’s long career. It will be the only US exhibition of his art outside his Long Island City museum this year. It opens tomorrow.

Portland Art Museum
Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video
This must see exhibit by the significant photographer (and Portland native) Weems closes this month. Make sure to see it by May 19, and read our profile of her from the magazine if you want to learn more.






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