PNCA, 1241 NW Johnson, 226-4391, through November 27
T he commons area at PNCA is plastered floor to ceiling with Dutch posters this month on the occasion of the Roadshow of Dutch Graphic Design, which traveled through Europe and the States before landing in Portland, explaining why many of the posters look a little worse for the wear. Roadshow is certainly an eye-pleasing exhibition, although it's hard to rest your gaze upon any singular piece due to the avalanche of imagery and design at work.
The show doesn't seem to have been hung in any orderly way--posters have been slapped up until every square inch of wall was covered. Several hundred pieces are on display, and the most recognizable of them to American audiences are for museum exhibitions and theater performances. When I asked myself if the work on view was any better than what I would see by flipping through the current issues of Graphis or Communication Arts, though, the answer was a resounding "not really." It was all "good," and some of it was even "damn nice," but almost none of it was spine tingling or particularly exciting (posters of some place called the Jetlag Lounge were a notable exception).
There is no overriding or dominant aesthetic at play here, and attempts to deduce any thesis or revelation about Dutch design are largely fruitless. The educational text that supports the exhibition is especially unhelpful. Only a single wall panel doles out generalities such as "The collected work bears witness to the energy, the daring, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the clients," and "Since the late 1980's or early 1990's, the graphic designer (like everyone else) has been continuously inundated with an excessive new visual culture based on advertising, television, new media, the internet, and other computer generated images." There's nothing about the history of graphic design in the Netherlands, nothing about influential designers--just generic, press release jabber. If the pieces are grouped by designer, they don't let you know it, so it's impossible to trace the work of a designer or firm, to marvel at the diversity which designers admirably display, or to search out their signature styles.
I've always admired designers for their rigorous attention to craft and detail, and especially for their dedicated process of working ideas and designs through hundreds of steps and drafts before realizing their final project. Having viewed this stylish but cumbersome exhibition of contemporary design, though, I wish the same amount of thought and dedication had gone into the show itself. CHAS BOWIE
Field Gallery, 328 NW Broadway #114, through November 26
N ow that we've all had a chance to say goodbye to Soundvision, Field Gallery has stepped up as the bar-setter over at Everett Station Lofts. Their current installation, Rhinestone Thong, by Los Angeles artist Vinh Bui, is a smart and sexy show of mixed media paintings. Bui, who was included in last summer's Best Coast, makes the best bedroom art since the boudoir abstract canvases of David Reed.
Bui's collage paintings are created on medium-sized sheets of clear Plexiglas, upon which he adheres wood paneling laminate. Diagonal stripes of talc-y pinks and greens are added, and then blobby shapes cut out from body builder and nudie magazines. The Plexiglas isn't entirely covered, though, and you can still glimpse the wall behind the painting at several points. On the backside of the clear surface, Bui paints stripes of color, which viewers can't see directly, but when properly lit, bounce colored light back onto the wall to create luminous effects somewhere between Dan Flavin and raver glo-sticks. The quasi-retro wood panel / human flesh / softly glowing light of these paintings drip with sexiness, and the artist offers that yes, he had been thinking about the wood-paneled basements of so many sexual cherry-pickings. Stephen Meisel's controversial rec-room, teeny porn ads for Calvin Klein certainly come to mind, and Bui also turned me on to Fiona Apple's Criminal video as another wood paneled erotica classic.
In addition to the sexual nature of these paintings, Bui succeeds with the colored shadows that his pieces throw onto the wall. They are heavily reminiscent of the way that Flavin, a fluorescent artist, would point his colored tubes toward the wall to create a secondary chromatic event in the background of his work. Big ups to Field Gallery and Vinh Bui for the great show. CHAS BOWIE