Saturday, November 20, 2010

Where Did You Go?

When I visited the museum this week I experienced a small heartbreak. I led a good friend to the Northwest gallery to show off "my" painting, the Carl Morris Untitled 1968. It wasn't there! In it's place was a whopping photorealistic floral with fantastic colors, very striking, but I didn't even look at the title or the artist--I just wanted my painting! I had been looking forward to seeing and sharing this piece, to having my love for it on display in front of my friend, to praising it before sympathetic ears, and it had been swept away by circumstances (into a dark vault I could not visit), even as the powers-that-be had promised it would be fixed in place.

Such pinings are silly. It's just a painting, right? But I felt loss...people loss. And as I write this I suddenly remember a conversation I had with the painter Carl Hall in 1984, as we looked at some pictures in a show at Willamette University where he was my teacher. I had asked him to help me understand some paintings that were obscure to me. "Paintings are people," he said.

At the time I thought he meant that they contain bits of the artist, that aspects of personality rub off in the work, or that you need to pretend that paintings are people so that you can behold them as individuals without the judgement of comparison. But with this recent experience I wonder if he didn't mean something deeper. The sensation of loss I had, of disappointment, was a human response, the kind I would have had if I had lost another human being, as if a friend suddenly disappeared without notice.

I admit this with some embarrassment, as it seems full of drama, especially when I normally view the whole process of art coming into the world from the point of view of one who makes it. But I would not feel this way about a familiar mass-produced object that disappeared from the landscape.

As art involves magic, attempting portals through which willing participants can pass to transformed states of being, its potential may be more powerful than I thought. Instead of merely evoking love; it might create it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The first time we met

It was my first visit to the museum and I was really impressed with the permanent collection. As I continued to roam I came upon Dying Gaul. To say I was speechless by his beauty is an understatement. Dying Gaul seemed to be in a state of meditation, yet at any moment he would look up and say hello. So lifelike, in both his physical appearance and energy. There is a life force within him and he says so much without uttering a single word. John De Andrea truly captured the spirit of being human, with all our flaws and imperfections, yet balanced with true beauty and grace. The blemishes on his back, the curve of his muscles, I just want to curl up and fall asleep with him.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Ah, Sweet Consummation...

Boy am I glad that my new life partner and I have finally consummated our marriage!

It was an instant attraction, possibly a bit too physical at first, perhaps a little rushed...
But an itch like that needs to be scratched as soon as possible for the good of both parties.

What a relief!

I'm not sure what took us so long. It may have been that post-nuptial buyer's remorse that grips some of the recently espoused. Or my companion's rigid, quadrilateral disposition. Or my own fear of liking Matisse.

Either way, I have found endearing qualities in my companion, and they aren't ALL bare bottoms and garters.

May our visits be frequent and long.

May she understand if I'm not entirely monogamous.

And may beauty always be in the eye of the beholder!

Mazel tov!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Our Reverse Courtship

Having just married "Peach Blossom Spring" I began considering ways to deepen our relationship. This lead me to seek out her creator, Jacci Den Hartog. A couple of days ago I sent a message; introducing myself, telling of our nuptials, explaining that I have only honorable intentions, and requesting her blessing. This evening I received a favorable reply! She wrote that she "had no idea that 'Peach Blossom Spring' was marriage material!" and was "honored".

Needless to say I am stoked! With our marriage, and now the approval of our families, out of the way... looks like it's time to start dating.

I married a good man!

George Washington, by Rembrandt Peale

The truth of the matter is that I have a special relationship with George. It is not that he was the richest guy in the Colonies, not that he was a leader among men (women didn’t count for much those days, and some say he had more luck on his side than strategy), not that he was even a president, but that he was self-possessed and simultaneously modest.

It was the embodiment of what came to be known as the American spirit, or American values that makes me love him. When you look at George, he wears no decorations of rank or status. All military men of some standing wore shoulder macaroni, as did he. He also wore a simple stock around his neck, and a clean but modest garment. There are no metals plastered or pinned to his chest or badges of honor. There are no sashes defining to which club he might have been a member. He is just there, stately and ruddy-faced, with a relatively un-handsome big nose.

I always interpret the wooden oval around his portrait as the rough-hewn material from which he had emerged, although I am told that it indicates that by the time Rembrandt Peale made this portrait, George was dead.

One ought not leave out the painter Rembrandt Peale in all of this. He is one of our early geniuses, and it is a welcome and cherished gift that the Portland Art Museum is the recipient of a piece of his work.

My family came to America long after Washington and Peale had died. But it was easy to adopt George and the mythology around him as our own. He stood for the best in all of us. Modest, smart, enterprising, but with the wisdom to know when to step down and pass the mantle of power.

When touring students at the art museum as I do, I look for an opportunity to have those students say, “Hello, George.” And if we have time, we pull out a dollar bill and compare portraits, and we talk about transmitted values. Civic pride ought not be overlooked just because art is our major topic.

Carol Isaak, Portland Art Museum docent

A Family Assemblage

I'll be honest. I'd been seeing the Raymond Saunders piece on the sly for a while before I introduced it to my family -- I guess I felt like I had to wait for the right time to bring it into the fold. When that right time came, we dressed up in our finery and stood before "Assemblage." Coen played "Song of the Wind" on his violin and I held the bouquet of flowers. It was a very tender ceremony.

I think perhaps the most obvious compatibility between our family and Saunders is the habit of collecting things and assembling them into a kind of ordered chaos, whether it's bits of paper, chalk, paint, a chair, newsprint, a box of cereal. We too collect things, and though we don't necessarily assemble them as well as Saunders, there's a certain art to our household chaos, just the same. Among the objects on Saunders’ piece, one can see cornflakes, paintings, a set of Chinese checkers, a mask, an article on Tuskegee airmen, etc. The assemblage serves to preserve artifacts from a bygone era and evokes a kind of nostalgia for the past. Were we to assemble a family panel on the wall like Saunders' "Assemblage," it would likely include Sylvie's pink framed rainbow sunglasses and stuffed toy guinea pigs, ("Guin" and "Guin-Guin"), Coen's little shoulder bag embroidered with the word Ecuador, full of coins, a compass, secret messages written in code, and a popsicle stick whittled to a sharp point. Ben's section of panel might include items like a handkerchief, a mug of strong coffee, an I-pod, and notebooks full of his second novel. Mine would have a pile of library books, a pair of fingerless gloves, and a diagram of my novel-in-progress in colorful sticky-notes on the wall. We surround ourselves with objects that are dear to us, and comfortable, and from the pile emerges a family narrative, and the beginning of the history we will assemble together.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

That'll do pig...

My love affair with a shiny, silver oinker began several years ago.

I was visiting the art museum with friends and we were meandering around when I ran into Boar quite literally. I was walking backwards talking and bumped into him. I remember being fascinated by the detailing involved in the piece. I can only imagine the time involved in creating this amazing work.

When I heard about the ability of being married to a work of art I immediately thought of my beloved pal and signed up right away! Luckily I happened to be just in time to be the last one to be married that night by my "Justice of the Peace".

Vows commenced. We kissed. (Insert photo op here)

I'm looking forward to my next visit with Boar. Hopefully that will be soon :-)

Thinking about looking and time...

I have been thinking quite a bit about what it means (or can mean) to have a relationship with an artwork. Like all relationships, it's complicated. In today's Huffington Post I was interested to see this new column by James Elkins, historian and critic at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The title of his piece is "How Long Does it Take to Look at a Painting." Link is below. He talks at length about people who have spent lifetimes looking at single works of art. Little does he know that there are dozens of us in Portland doing the same thing...

" spend that much time in front of an artwork, you have to be in dialogue with it. You have to listen to it, and think something in response, and look again, and see how the work has changed. You have to believe that you can have an ongoing, evolving relationship with something that is unchanging. Many people might say that is impossible."

-James Elkins

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stephanie Parrish + Western Motel by Edward and Nancy Kienholz

Sonnet to a "Western Motel "

By Margaret Kieweg, Portland Art Museum Docent

In honor of the art/life partner-commitment made by Stephanie Parrish on October 15, 2010

Art thou a lovely work of art?
Entombed within museum walls
How capture thus a maiden's heart
While yet thou makest my skin crawl!

The dirt and grime are shine enshrined
Old shoes or slippers over used
Alas the ice cream smears are primed
Liquor bottles strewn, confused

The soft red neon makes the plea
A vacancy is there within
My heart is cold, desires to flee
Or grab a mop, paint brush and bin.

Despite my own reluctant dread
She makes her vow, “Motel” to wed.

Kelsey Snook + Untitled by Alexander Calder

Hayley Barker + Oannes et le shinx by Odilon Redon

John Henry Dale + Boar by Gianmaria Buccellati

Cassie Neth and Bethany Hays + Bitter Lake Compound by Whiting Tennis

David Lochtie + Untitled, 1968 by Carl Morris

Jill and Vinh Mason + Bhudda Head from Xiangtangshan, China

Jack McClaskey + Boar by Gianmaria Buccellati

Alex Lee + Fragments of Oracle Bones by Unknown

Juliette Harding + Early Hour by Karl Hofer

Robby Bricker + Rug, 1991 by Betty Harvey

Tori Abernathy + Girl with Cigarette by Moses Soyer

Scott Davey + Dying Gaul by John De Andrea

Cristy McCarty + Le gong c'et une lune by Alexander Calder

Carol Isaak + George Washington by Rembrandt Peale

Christopher Sappington + The Mill by Max Beckmann

Robin Brady + Artifact Panel by William Morris

Emma Vicente + L'arbre rouge by Dale Chihuly

Amy Lyn Matteson + Marine, 1884 by William Trost Richards

Ariana Jacob +The American Flag is not an Object of Worship by Richard Serra

Jessica Funaro + P's and Q's (Slender Bowl with Folds) by Ursula Von Rydingsvard

Kimi Westermann + In Between by Darren Waterston

Friday, November 5, 2010

Allyson Drozd + Madame de Pompadour by Cindy Sherman

Jen Reinsch + Peach Blossom Spring by Jacci Den Hartog

Bremen McKinney + Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder by Robert Colescott

Sarah Wolf Newlands + The Dzunukwa Feast Dish by Unkown

Sahar Sepahdari + Late Reminder by Joseph Albers

Zachary Waddell + And the spell was broken somewhere over the rainbow by Brett Reichman

Lindsay Johnson + Wind on Water by Joseph Raffael

Mark Fuller + Untitled, 1967 by Mark Rothko

John Wilmont + Forest Devil by Kenneth Snelson

Charlotte Ives + Water and Moon Bodhisattva from The Song Dynasty

Laura Moulton, Ben Parzybok and Family + Assemblage, 1991 by Raymond Saunders

Megan Walsh + Spaced Out Orbit by Helen Frankenthaler

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Bodhi

I ask a lot of questions. I ask questions people don't want to answer.
I ask questions, and then ask them to answer themselves.
I can't help it. I'm human right?

Upon seeing Water and Moon Bodhisattva, (a collaborative of) the Song dynasty, I knew I was looking at a representation of an answer.

Bodhi; enlightenment.
Sattva; a being, or an existence.

My Bodhisattva is an enlightened being.
One who chose to forgo Nirvana, or Buddhahood, to help me get the answers I need.

To help anyone who beg the question, to answer itself.
And like I said, I ask a lot of those.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"The Mill" and I

My relationship with The Mill, given life by Max Beckmann, may have begun long ago. I was struck on numerous occasions, wandering the galleries for hours with my student pass, by the starkness of the painting. The abundance of black seems superimposed on top of the flat fields of color, and the boldness of the composition spoke to my heart in ways I could not hope to see come to such a formal fruition. Our relationship is slowly deepening as the weeks pass and the initial excitement of the bond gives way to a strong desire to know more. I find myself not only content to gaze at The Mill as I have done before, but wanting to know more. More about Beckmann, more about the drives that may have led him to create this specific work. Think of it as a kind of extended family if you will, that, after marriage, you realize you may become closer to than you imagined. I find myself wanting to play cards with the legacy of Beckmann while we sip gin and tonics, vacationing with The Mill and who knows what other bits of the collection. In my mind, we bond in unexpected ways as the conversation turns to The Mill in its adolescence, wild as it surely was. The cage, the arms of the mill with trussed figures. What must have been the inspirations? As our shotgun wedding settles into what is perhaps contentment, I know I will find only more inspiration to delve into the emotional and compositional past of The Mill, surely deepening our connection as I do. -Topher Sappington