Two factions among Portland's young art-Turks are battling it out on the streets, from Everett to Alberta, and in shows everywhere in between. With their art and curatorial visions, both sides are doing their damnedest to recast the city's cultural vibe, and this season the stakes are high. Several key Pearl District galleries are in talks to take over the old Daisy Kingdom building on Northwest 8th Avenue, a move that could shift the city's high-art fulcrum east into Chinatown. And in September, there are plans for a scrappy independent exhibition with an audacious name, Fresh Trouble, set during the same month the Portland Art Museum will open its new contemporary art wing to unprecedented public attention.
To contexualize this lively debate, we've reviewed the art and viewed the scene, then drawn up a short list of young artists and curators, dividing the players into two camps: the Post-Moderns and the New Romantics.
The Post-Mods are idea-driven, their work text-based and analytical, influenced by conceptual art and minimalism. Their hip-to-be-square aesthetic betrays an emphasis on living contemplatively and dying with a big bibliography. Contemporary role models: Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.
In contrast, the New Romantics are persona-driven, their work experiential, influenced by the Abstract Expressionists and Pop. Underlying their aesthetic is a philosophy of living fast and dying young-or at least acquiring a cult following. Contemporary role models: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Matthew Barney.
Here's our primer to Portland's art wars, starting with a pair of artists we've enlisted to serve as the face of each faction: Sean Healy of the Post-Mods and Jacqueline Ehlis of the New Romantics. We've collected examples of the work of a handful of up-and-coming artists and influencers, and we've drawn up a quiz (see page 35) to help you choose sides. Pick your favorites-and let the cultural battle begin.
Breakout shows: Exhibits in Seattle, Austin and Atlanta.
Gallery: Savage Art Resources
Jacqueline Ehlis: "90 Miles Per Hour" was the fitting title of one of her shows at Savage Art Resources, as her style is about speed, gloss and breaking rules. One of the star pupils when art-world bad boy Dave Hickey was at University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Ehlis' work glows with the neon intensity and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip. Her new show at Savage is Vigor. She boasts: "I'm dangerous."
Jeff Jahn: Crafted a persona beneath his mega-moussed blond hair. Fancies himself a modern Viking but looks like a lost member of Abba-picture Don King as a humanities honkie. Curator of such standout shows as Play, The Best Coast and Symbiont/Synthetic. As critic for the website NW Drizzle, he displays a verbose but well-informed prose style-and a firm grounding in art history.
Scott Wayne Indiana: Rising star has made waves with recent shows at Everett Station, thanks to his wild abstractions with the drama of action painting.
Laura Fritz: Conceptual artist as a modern-day Mona Lisa: She's so archly post-mod, she's romantic. Creates intrigue by not explaining her beyond-odd sculptures (opaque sea anemones that move around on light boxes as if alive). What's behind her enigmatic gaze and even more enigmatic creations?
Daniel Kaven: Renaissance Man-about-town is a filmmaker, architect, photographer and painter. Known for Naked Seoul, his haunting film exploring loneliness and sensuality on the neon-lit streets of the South Korean capital. Mounting an ambitious multimedia show at Gallery 500 in July.
more new romantics
Aaron H.H. Trotter: Painter influenced by his jungle and Outback excursions. His new artwork-melding primitivism and something he calls "AbZtraKt Synergy"-drips with exoticism.
Lauren Mantecon: Neo-flower-power earth mother, who created 99 Pink Boxes for the Bellevue Art Museum as a feminist commentary.
Justin Oswald: Owner of Gallery 500 (420 SW Washington St., Suite 500), whose cult of personality and curatorial finesse turned it into THE late-night First Thursday spot to see internationally known artists like the Sanchez Brothers and Pinar Yolaçan. Charismatic, with a penchant for doe-skin clogs and luxuriant chest hair. Known for knowing everyone.
Bryan Suereth: Brazenly temperamental but brilliant. His resolutely anti-political personality put him on a collision course with Modern Zoo co-director Shettler. Now as he creates his own nonprofit, Disjecta, he's having to negotiate bureaucracies, raise money, and behave like a leader. Time will tell if the maverick can turn magistrate.
1999 Oregon Biennial
Gallery: Elizabeth Leach
Sean Healy: Known for works glorifying obfuscation, such as embalming photographs in opaque resins. Lately, this artist-as-mortician has shown signs of (gasp!) turning Romantic, leaving behind his meaning-muddying ways in favor of shiny surfaces, polished chrome and bold colors.
Chris Buckingham: Half of Charm Bracelet duo. Known for his well-received 2003 exhibit at Basil Hallward Gallery of his mother's favorite coffee mugs, accompanied by her stories about them. Ergo, art as intimate diary, not grand gesture. Therein lay its charm-or pointlessness.
Camela Raymond: Founder of the nearly 3-year-old broadsheet The Organ (now on an irregular printing schedule). The pub earned raves and rants for its melding of visual/literary sensibilites and passive-aggressive editorial tone. Aiming for serious irreverence, The Organ served as the Post-Moderns' Bible.
Brodie Large: Quirky curator at Everett Station Lofts' Residence Gallery flew under the radar until last year, when he hung his own photos of people throwing up spectacular shades of food coloring. Next came his split-screen installation of himself shooting a gun and masturbating. Upcoming project: a photo exhibit of local art scenesters posing cheesily with faux awards.
Chandra Bocci: Gen-Y artist known for blending post-modern pastiche with Gummi Bears and My Little Pony. Makes brilliant collages out of Fruit Loops boxes and OtterPops. Her personality? Impishly charming, matched with prototypical Portland slack. Is beginning to show at institutions outside of town, but her work's hard to market. Good news: She's not selling out. Bad news: She's not selling.
Harrell Fletcher: Ultimate local post-mod, who curates the "Learning to Love You More" website with artist/filmmaker Miranda July.
Randy Gragg: Architecture/urban planning critic for The Oregonian, who co-engineered the 30-exhibit Core Sample in 2003.
Brad Adkins: Other half of the Charm Bracelet artistic duo, who exhibited a plastic elephant stuffed with press releases and artists statements at Core Sample.
Jenn Armbrust: Earned credibility as director of Motel, turning a gallery/boutique without a street address (no joke) into a First Thursday must-see. Logo for the space (located on Northwest Couch Street between 5th and 6th avenues) is a retro-ironic deer.
Gavin Shettler: First known for his finely focused eye for Northwest abstraction at Everett Station Lofts. Now molded by circumstance-in his new post as executive director of the Portland Art Center-into eclecticist. Co-founded Modern Zoo with Bryan Suereth.
THE ART WARS QUIZ
Are you a Portland Post-Mod or a New Romantic? Take our quiz to find out.
I never miss:
A) First Thursday and First Friday
B) Last Thursday and last call
A) Doug Fir
A) The Decemberists
B) The Doors
A) Core Sample
B) Snore Ample
If you answered more A's, you're a Post-Mod-pick up your coffee-mug-shaped award at Chris Buckingham's pad.
If you answered more B's, you're a New Romantic-your prize is a bottle of imported absinthe.