Nine O' Nine

Exhibits at 815 NW 13th (across from PNCA), as well as the Metaform Gallery, Pepper Gallery, and Arclab Gallery.

Curating is, at its base level, a highfalutin practice of show and tell. The curator chooses an artist or a group of artists worthy of "showing off," and makes it happen, whether it's at a major art museum, a DIY one-night event, or the coffee shop on the corner. The tough part about being a curator, besides actually getting paid for it, is that it's a relatively thankless job considering all the work involved. Duties include conceiving the show; convincing a gallery to let you take over for a month or so; selecting the work; avoiding all the people who want to be in your show but aren't; designing and paying for announcements; riding the asses of artists who sleep through every deadline; arranging the transportation of artwork; laying out and hanging the show; getting the wall lettering up in a straight line; and securing a keg for the reception.

And then who gets the credit? The artists get 99% of it, and maybe one or two visitors will compliment the curator on their interesting "exhibition design." So why do it? Because, to use Dave Hickey's analogy about writing criticism, it's great air guitar. Curators get the chance to vicariously rock their little hearts out, stay heavily involved in the scene, and based on my experiences, have a creative outlet for their detail-oriented type A personalities.

A group of PNCA students who have been taking Gallery Management 101 with artist/Feldman Gallery director, Nan Curtis, have just had their first swing at the curatorial plate. For their final assignment, they curated a show, start to finish. Nine O' Nine, as the series of exhibits is called, is an interesting peek into the artistic interests of the students as well as an opportunity to observe a junior sampling of curatorial dos and don'ts.

Some people will argue this point, but a good rule of thumb for organizing exhibitions is Don't curate yourself into your own show. It makes you look like an ego-maniac. Thankfully, most of the Nine O' Nine students opted not to include themselves, and nearly all of them presented artists who aren't even PNCA students.

If I had to give an award for exhibition design, it would go to Jesse Kaminash for How is it that you would have me, a photographic installation by Bradford Nordeen. Nordeen's series of self-portraits recall our vainest moments in front of the mirror, posturing for the best angle, putting on pouty abject faces, and taking quick peeks at our bare asses. Kaminash has designed a snappy installation in a narrow, three-walled space. With delicate cursive type for the wall lettering, a long-running mural style layout for the photos, and most impressively, the restraint to leave the facing wall blank, the artwork is elevated just by the setting.

Curator Patrick Melroy has made the ballsiest stretch by presenting the work of an eighty-year-old man with no formal art training. Merlin Hawkins has been splitting shale for paving stones from the mountains of southwest Washington since the Depression era, and Melroy devoted a gallery to a hundred or so pieces of Hawkins' shale. Nearby sits a stump with the artist's chisels and hammer, topped with a slab of stone that Hawkins set aside for his wife's gravestone 17 years ago, but hasn't brought himself to start on yet.

As far as pure artistic pleasure, curator Tammy Wilson proves she has good taste by debuting the kinetic sculptures of Owen Premore, a U of O grad who makes delightful motorized dioramas. In pieces like Baby Factory and Les Fleurs du Mal, gears whir, flywheels threaten to chop off curious fingers, and silver monkey faces find their way onto quasi-robotic contraptions. The work's tinkery Radio Shack quality has an undeniable appeal, and if the artist continues to push towards more ambitious sculptures, I wouldn't be surprised if Premore became a fixture in the local art scene.

Curating is about having an eye for this kind of art. You can fundraise until you puke and write the best wall text the world has ever seen, but unless you're showing art that people are excited to see, you might as well be playing air guitar to a Neil Diamond record. CHAS BOWIE