2006 oregon biennial

Jennifer Gately, curator for Northwest art at Portland Art Museum, took on a tall order when she assumed her position earlier this year. In less than six months, she had to scour the state for talented artists, sift through some 700-plus portfolios, visit as many studios as possible, then curate the area’s most important visual arts exhibition, the Oregon Biennial. That Gately accomplished this feat not only ably, but with finesse, bodes well for the museum’s present and future.

This Biennial feels expansive overall, despite its tight hang. Bill Will’s 21-foot-long sculpture, “Reconstitution,” takes partial credit for this, greeting the viewer upon entry to the main gallery with a languid horizontal line of scrap lumber fashioned into a shape reminiscent of the space shuttle. Near Will’s piece is an installation by the single-monikered up-and-comer known as Houston: an office filing cabinet tilted to one side as if wounded, its metal skin pierced by seven arrows, a net of dream catchers up above, as if Native American warriors had regrouped and attacked white-dominated corporate America.

New media are well represented, including Jo Jackson’s bubblegum-hued video piece, “History: The Complete Drawings,” and a digital film collaboration between Andrew Ellmaker and Mark Brandau called Pedestal, which recalls the meta-aesthetic dialogues of Richard Strauss’ opera “Capriccio.” Other highlights include Emily Ginsburg’s intricate prints, Federico Nessi’s photographic transmutations of mundanity into heroism, and Matthew Picton’s intricately traced roadway drawings, which float in front of the wall supported by tiny pins, casting shadows this way and that way. The show’s most dramatic piece is Chandra Bocci’s “Gummi Bear Big Bang II,” in which the rubbery candies, strung up on wires, seem to hurtle outward towards the viewer. It would be hard to imagine a more dynamic meeting of consumer culture and cosmologic speculation.

There are a few misses among the hits. Brad Adkins’ “Keys to my Parents’ House” seems unaware that Marcel Duchamp covered this ground 89 years ago; Lucinda Parker’s paintings are much Sturm und Drang with little payoff; and Jesse Hayward’s chaotic “Large Pod Project” aims for deconstruction but achieves only demolition. These are exceptions, however, in a Biennial that largely succeeds as a savvy survey of an increasingly vibrant
art scene.

Oct 2006 by richard speer

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