It’s not enough to show work by underrepresented artists. We have to learn how to see it.
The Trump administration has announced it is moving forward with its plan to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities (which will save a whopping 0.0625 percent of the budget!). Resist.
The lack of engagement in Portland’s art institutions, combined with impossibly high rents and massive gentrification, means that the creative class is being driven out.
This means that Trump’s war now threatens museums, libraries, archives, arts education and radio, not to mention the creation of new works of dance, literature, music, theater and visual arts.
In the months since, it seems that artists, gallery owners and exhibition managers have come to the conclusion they don’t have to make radical changes in their lives to make a difference, that they can devote themselves to activism within the world they already inhabit. Looking at the calendar of openings, it’s pretty remarkable how the Portland visual arts scene has rallied.
In one of Eric West’s large-scale color photographs documenting the Burmese urban landscape, a barefoot monk crosses a dusty, potholed street, his burgundy robe billowing around him. Ahead of him, a humble, three-story building stands on the corner, its façade plastered with advertisements for cellphones.
I expect these five shows to help steel us for the upcoming inauguration. Some will do so by reminding us of the beauty that is everywhere for the taking, while others will reassure us that in the face of so much violence, jingoism and hate, we all care about the uncertain future of our humanity.
This isn’t the list of the “best” art shows of the year. Art is nothing if not personal and subjective, so the trick to reading this list is not to take it as an objective truth, but simply to understand what causes certain pieces of art to find a home in one person’s heart and mind.
The first painting you see when you enter Arvie Smith’s exhibition at the Portland Art Museum features a black man, stripped of his clothes, being lynched by hooded Klan members, with someone in the corner of the frame waving the American flag.
When an artist reaches the level Andy Warhol has, when his work has become cemented in the annals of culture and history, something interesting happens: People stop asking if it’s any good.
For roughly the same amount of money that you would be handing over to a faceless corporation for an assembly-line reproduction, you can get something that’s one of a kind.
When people’s lives are being threatened because of the color of their skin or the way they pray, when people are having bottles broken over their noses because of whom they love, when families have to worry about being separated by mass deportation, when swastikas are being etched on walls, when nothing feels safe anymore, it’s easy to think that art doesn’t matter.
Many of the shows involve artists—some emerging, others well-known—bringing art into places you wouldn’t expect to find it.
He’s hand-built small, hyper-real objects like matchbooks, carnival ephemera and Polaroids out of stoneware.
During my final lap through the gallery, my partner asked me why I loved one of the pieces so much. After thinking hard about it, I said, “I have no idea. I just do.”