One Take on the Biennial by Chas Bowie
Here's the standard to which I hold the Oregon Biennial: Would I be proud to show this exhibition to out-of-state artists and curators who know nothing about the art being made here? As the Biennial is fundamentally a snapshot of what's happening right here, right now, will this snapshot haunt us years down the line when Mom shows it to our first dates? Or will it be the one flattering photo that we trot out at the drop of a hat? In short, will the Oregon Biennial make us proud, or will it embarrass us?
I approached the Biennial hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, buoyed by the knowledge that many of the area's best artists were lurking therein. Visitors to the exhibition are greeted by Pat Boas' beautifully uncanny drawings—pseudo-scientific, vaguely sexual interlocking rings of cougar tails and squid tentacles floating in space. Across the sculpture court sits Jesse Hayward's most realized work to date—in oozing tumors of acrylic, gesso, and foam, "Large Pod Project" is a shrine to abject chromatic grotesquery that exudes a Todd Solondz-ian jubilation in its goopy wretchedness. At the mere sight of these artists' works, trepidation vanished from my mind.
Things only got better in the main gallery, but two works in particular were utter knockouts. The artist Houston, who bills himself as a "brand" or "logo" as much as an artist (barf, double barf) came out of nowhere with the preposterously titled "Rendition/Illuminati Multivariate." In part, a paneled office ceiling has been torn from the rafters by the weight of a few dozen kitschy "dream catchers." Across the gallery, Storm Tharp's ink drawing "Had Had" reminds us why Tharp is quite possibly the most exciting artist working in Portland today. Like the offspring of a Tim Burton understudy and a Japanese ukiyo-e brush master, the potted man in "Had Had" is both cartoony and sensual, beautiful and disfigured, patterned and pathological.
If I had space, I'd go on about my other favorites from the show: Marcy Adzich, Michael Brophy, Ty Ennis, Kristan Kennedy, Brittany Powell, and David Rosenak—but there's no room. There's just enough space to make the sweeping but heartfelt pronouncement: The 2006 Oregon Biennial is the strongest exhibition of local art that I have seen in the four-plus years that I've lived here.
Another Take on the Biennial by John Motley
When Jennifer Gately started work as the Portland Art Museum's Curator of Northwest Art in January, she inherited the task of putting together the next Oregon Biennial. That meant sifting through 768 submissions in a mere six weeks—a crash course in an arts community with which she was largely unfamiliar. It also meant contending with lingering criticisms of the previous Biennial, which was fraught with controversial omissions. To be sure, those are some formidable challenges, but this year's show, which opened last weekend, is an impressive survey of the state's art and a major victory for the museum, which seldom gets it as right as Gately has.
Like a true survey, the work by the selected 34 artists is sprawling and diverse. Rather than mapping trends or patterns among the region's artists, Gately has curated a show that simply attempts to gather the state's most compelling work. Still, a few thematic motifs inevitably crop up, particularly an identification with Northwest regionalism. This thread was most predictably typified in Michael Brophy's sumi ink drawings of a wading outdoorsman and pilings that peek above a river's waterline. While Brophy's drawings provide more documentary than commentary, Bill Will's sculpture, "Reconstitution," delivers its message more overtly. Reconstructing a felled log from scrap wood, Will contemplates issues of commerce and endangered natural resources. Elsewhere, artists' meditations on region are less obsessed with the great outdoors. In the four photographs from his gorgeous "Beaverton" series, Shawn Records attempts to excavate beauty buried in suburban sprawl, such as the demolished theater in "Regal Cinemas Westgate 5, Cedar Hills Blvd."
For those who have been trolling galleries over the past year or so, much of the art on display will be familiar; including previously exhibited works by Holly Andres, Amanda Wojick, and Ty Ennis. But there are also plenty of new works that help the show feel both fresh and vital. Summer is a notoriously lackluster season for visual arts, and the Biennial goes a long way to fill the void—it's by far the best group show of local art we'll see this year.