Let's start here: I'm not a trained art critic. I'm an art-curious, a snack-positive First Thursday wanderer who, like many millennials, operates on an "everyone's an artist" assumption. And if everyone's an artist, then everyone's a critic—so pass me that free cave-aged cheddar!
This month, many of Portland's art happenings explore how contemporary art interacts with its hyperdynamic, contentious and fast-paced social climate—and the idea that personal identity, which amounts to the way so-called ordinary people experience so-called ordinary lives, can always be examined in a way that makes it…art!
So, my fellow consumers, I invite you this April to receive our city's art scene knowing that it is, after all, for you—your fear, your frustration, your systemic oppression, or just your irreverent sense of humor.
Here are the five shows I'm most excited to see this month.
An apparent play on words that got wildly out of hand, this hybrid of installation and performance art from brother-sister duo Geordie and Merridawn Duckler in an out-there, robotic homage to the Rubaiyat, a legendary collection of poetry by 12th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam. This is one of those juicy bits of art that's hard to describe, simply by virtue of how much there is to describe; the Ducklers promise a line of 500 robots, ranging in size from giant to itty-bitty, as well as text, wall panels, colored drawings, and assorted found objects. Blackfish Gallery, 420 NW 9th Ave., 503-224-2634. Through April 29. Lecture and performance 7 pm Sunday, April 9.
In a terribly timely manner, this exhibition of lens-based art addresses the oppressive nature of societal structures and value systems that are accepted as natural rather than made-up. (If that sounds like just a bunch of words to you, think: finance, labor, etiquette, and rules in general.) Featuring experimental photographers Cara Levine, Brendan Fernandes, Mary Ellen Strom and more, Dominant Form looks specifically at how human physiology is affected by these assumptions, and how the gestures of the human body express systemic ideals more readily than words. Newspace Center for Photography, 1632 SE 10th Ave., 503-963-1935. April 7-May 27.
Bowed by the Wait of It All
This may only be a lowly MFA candidacy show, but the reach of its subject makes it more than worth mentioning. In it, sculptor Kayley Berezney responds to her metastatic breast cancer and its influence on her physical body. Focusing intentionally on the corporeal rather than the emotional, this arrangement of found objects like containers, rope, and styrofoam asks questions about cause and effect—how one's physical and emotional realities are constantly reflecting each other and being informed by one another. Littman Gallery at PSU Smith Student Union, 1825 SW Broadway, No. 250, 503-725–4452. April 17-27.
The Golden Age of Poster Design
As it turns out, all the pieces of shit who work in "branding" nowadays weren't the first people vapid enough to mistake advertising for art. Deemed, horrifyingly, "the golden age of advertising," the 1890s saw lithographic printing and graphic design move forward technologically in leaps and bounds, resulting in some exquisitely beautiful, fine-art level promotional posters and launching an international poster craze that's hardly slowed down since. Is this art? Pittock Mansion, 3229 NW Pittock Dr., 503-823-3623. Through July 9.
Kara Walker's collage-based, black-and-white silhouette works reflect on African-American racial identity and show a singular gift for magnet-like narrative pull. It's still on display at the art museum and still required viewing for every white Portlander. Embracing both humor and violence, both whimsical caricature and deep historical suffering, viewers aren't just challenged, but shown hard truths and made to feel personally at fault for them. Here, Walker's work will be side by side with exclusively other African-American artists, including Portland painter Arvie Smith's lush, emotive representations of oppression, dispossession and an unrelenting search for beauty in one's self. Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., 503-226-2811. Through June 18.