Sunday, Sept. 12 at The Works at Washington High School:
Sometimes in the art world, a duet becomes a duel. Such has often been the case between the forces of elitism and the voices for populism in modern and contemporary art. Do you need a Master's of Fine Art degree from a prestigious art school such as Yale or Pratt to deserve art stardom, or do good intentions count for something, too? TBA's People's Biennial
takes this question on with spirit and sincerity, and while the answer to the quandary is still very much up in the air, the show does an effective job of framing the right questions.
Co-curated by local artist/curator/educator Harrell Fletcher and the San Francisco-based Jens Hoffmann, the show aims to present a more inclusive sampling of artists than we are used to seeing in well-known biennials such as the Venice Biennale
and the Whitney Biennial (in which Fletcher himself has exhibited not once but twice).
The curators' goal, as outlined in the show's mission statement, is to “question the often exclusionary and insular nature of selecting art, which has turned the spaces where art is produced and exhibited into privileged havens detached from the realities of everyday life.” To remedy this, Fletcher and Hoffmann looked for artwork outside the purview of mainstream commercial galleries in four cities in addition to Portland: Rapid City, South Dakota; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Haverford, Pennsylvania. The curatorial method: open call. Among the works to make the cut: Phoenix breakdancer Joseph Perez dancing on a canvas with paint-covered hands, creating two abstract paintings; an ice cream stand entitled “Junior Ambassador's Homemade Ice Cream of Mostlandia,”
manned on opening night by local ice-cream scoopers such as curator Paul Middendorf; and plenty of perspectiveless, amateur painting and drawing by artists including Howard Kleger, Jonathan Lindsay, Ally Drozd, Jake Herman, and Cymantha Diaz Liakos.
There are entire sub-genres of historical and contemporary art made by self-taught artists, from the Art Brut movement pioneered by the late Jean Dubuffet to famous recluses such as Henry Darger. The naïveté and freshness of approach found among such artists can have a raw power and emotional purity absent from the work of rigorously trained artists who have gone through the meat grinder of academe. Indeed, there is something to be said for the attitude expressed in the artist statement of People's Biennial
exhibitor J.J. Ross, a 17-year-old Portland boy with Down's Syndrome. “My art comes from the heart,” Ross writes. “I want to be a good artist. It makes me feel good. I'm happy when I draw.” We all seek different things from art—the immaculate, the slapdash, the conceptual, the visceral—but one would hope we all appreciate the kernel of honesty and aspiration in Ross' sentiment. This show does not aim to be a definitive biennial, for no such animal exists, but rather an opportunity to look outside the confines of the world's dominant art centers at the riches hidden in unexpected corners.
GO: The People's Biennial
takes place at TBA's The Works at Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave. Closes Oct. 17.