Oregon Biennial 2001
Portland Art Museum 1219 SW Park
Through June 24

The 2001 Oregon Biennial began with a lone gunman and 500 targets. The showdown is now over and the body count reveals that less than five percent made it through a curatorial battle. Portland Art Museum's new chief curator, Bruce Guenther has selected 64 pieces from 20 people to comprise an updated view of Oregon art.

By several accounts the exhibit is impressive, though it is clearly steered in certain directions, indicating the pace at which the new curator moves. Painting represents two-thirds of the exhibit and fairly direct examples of specific movements are present, including Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. The Biennial is largely comprised of geometric and abstract tendencies; direct referral to the human form is noticeably absent. Roughly sixty percent of the included artists are female. The average age of the Biennial artist is 43 and all participants are armed with formal training. Most of the artists are from Portland, and some usual suspects from the local scene have work displayed. Art veterans Lucinda Parker (above), Judy Cooke, and Rae Mahaffey are represented by multiple works.

In addition to these expected inclusions, there are some artists worthy of highlighting.

Mark R. Smith received one of the few Juror's Awards for his piece entitled "Arena Recline" (A good call on this accolade). For his work, Smith amassed dozens of garments--a plethora of plaids, stripes, and polka dots. He then compresses the clothes onto a shaped plywood support, held tightly under a thick, clear vinyl. The shape of the piece mimics the aerial perspective of a sports arena. It mirrors the packaged-meat-reality of large arena concerts or sporting events, where thousands of people fill one space. Quite simply, the work is inventive, has a wonderful formal quality, and as one nearby viewer noted, "It's so clever!"

Brian Borrello draws viewers into two large, graphic works. Borello begins with a surface described as "marble-dust-impregnated linen." The stark white ground hosts dramatic charcoal gestures. In "Pine Needles," vertical lines form a meditative composition. Borrello magnifies the small twig to a proportion that engulfs the viewer.

Painter Todd Ros presents a series of striking, striped canvases. Clean lines separate unusual color combinations, choices illuminated in his statement. Ros reveals his fascination with World War II aircraft. Each painting is based on a particular plane. Ros created the composition based on the general volume and sequence of colors found on the aircraft.

Jan Reeves also scored a Juror's Award for her work entitled, "NUF Drawing: Narrative Sequence." Reeves constructs a grid of 50, 9x9 drawings that are layers of acrylic, ink, beeswax, pencil, and enamel on paper. The horizontal work weaves rounded shapes, circles, ellipses, etc, all done in the graphic palette of black, red and white.

While the Oregon Biennial is not all things for all people, it is an accurate reflection of trends in the Northwest scene. And though 480 artists were edited out of this survey, it was nice to see multiple works by each artist to greater illuminate individual intentions. Additionally, Bruce Guenther has installed a heightened element of competition that only raises the bar. It will be interesting to see two years from now if the art community rises to meet the challenge.

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