The oft-told bio sketch of Portland-based David Eckard is that he grew up gay on the farm in Iowa before attending the Art Institute of Chicago, and that his quasi-functional sculptures are equally influenced by farm machinery and accoutrements of sexual pleasure. While downplaying the sex angle, Eckard's current show at the Art Gym, Tournament (lumens), builds on these themes with grandiose theatrical mechanisms. (Drawings are also on view, here and at PDX Gallery. They are not to be missed.) Tournament (lumens) is an ambitious show of large-scale sculpture handcrafted in wood, leather, welded steel, rope, and lace. The pieces are made to look like enormous contraptions that people of the Victorian era would use for leisurely sport. They are whirligigs with wheels and leather seats whose functions are never fully defined. Their craftsmanship is impeccable, as is the selection and use of evocative materials. "Spoke" and "Throne," particularly, are marvelous contraptions of sculptural delight, with vague pragmatic applications.
Unfortunately, though, they're not contraptions at all. You're not even supposed to touch them. And pragmatic? They were built to be looked at, that's all. And so they are Art--objects of purely aesthetic virtue. They look, however, like they want to be something else, and their inability to exist as anything more is frustrating.
If we saw these beautiful, bizarre objects at an exhibition called "Devices of Victorian Wonder" at the Smithsonian, they'd steal the show, easily, because in addition to their beauty, we could speculate on their former lives and function. But instead we're seeing them in a fine art context, where they try to evoke a literal image of a vague scenario. What if an equally fantastic application for these props were presented through illustration or written document, and the sculptures would be impossibly functional rather than quasi-functional? Right now they are like Pinocchio, neither puppet nor boy, and as appealing as they are sculpturally, they remain too specific to be open-ended, but too ambiguous to come to life. CHAS BOWIE
All the Art That Fits
Portland Building, 1120 SW 5th
Now here is a show I couldn't pass up--All the Art That Fits: the 6th Annual City of Portland/Multnomah County Employee Art Exhibit in the Portland Building, through January 24th. To me, the mental image of a weary bureaucrat changing into his slippers after work and pulling out the hot glue gun or X-acto knife is infinitely more appealing than a young artist owing 40 G's in student loans, gauging which methods of paint application are most de rigueur among West Coast collectors. Maybe I'm romanticizing the amateur artist here, but I'm allowed to get romantic over art, and I wouldn't pass judgement until I saw the show.
That being said, a lot of it was just what you'd expect--color photos of butterflies and little tykes climbing trees by the coast, needlework commemorating September 11, and a color pastel drawing of a guy taking a swing at home plate. These typical Sunday-painter selections set the stage for some great surprises, though. Tiffany Vaughn Fleischer, of the Multnomah County Office of School and Community Partnerships, weighs in with a gorgeous cyanotype in a battered frame of a swarm of flagellum-like microbes. It is an unequivocally nice piece, in any context. Another favorite comes from Brad Quist of the MultCo Department of Juvenile Justice, who submitted a masterfully rendered painting of a speckled trout about to chomp down on a baited hook. The image obviously derives from a fishing magazine, but Quist's draftsmanship is top notch. This is a guy who obviously loves his art and his subject, which is always a surefire combination.
My afternoon of non-gallery art was supercharged a few blocks away on the corner of SW Madison & 2nd, in the window of some government building, by a terrific painting that speaks for itself. It shows Mr. T, somewhat crudely painted but still sporting the gold and the feather dangling from his ear, staring straight at the viewer. Next to him are the words "got god, fool?" Now, if this painting doesn't make your day, you're probably not someone I'd care to know. CHAS BOWIE