Joseph Cornell

Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park, 226-2811

Should anyone dare to brave the Paris to Portland mob at the Portland Art Museum, they might find a miniature exhibition of newly acquired works by Joseph Cornell tucked in a small nook by the gift shop. Cornell is, of course, the King of Surrealist Collage, and Master of the World-in-a-Box, a kind of folksy assemblage loved by everyone from Marcel Duchamp to high school art teachers across the country. Cornell was a self-taught artist, with a delightfully charming sensibility that has virtually become a style in itself. He was heavily into Victorian bric-a-brac, scouring flea markets for forgotten doll parts and clipping images of moons and mannequins from popular magazines. The PAM show has four of his famous box constructions, although they are not examples of his best sculptural work. The collages, though, are intimate and whimsical, and pure Cornell.

In the magnificently titled How a Rainbow Refracts Sunlight, a Rainbow is a Spectrum, a gargantuan topless fashion model rises above the cliffs and peaks of a desert landscape, her nipples resting on the tips of the mountains. Lest we forget the Freudian Circle in which Cornell ran, he has sliced off her arm about four inches above the elbow. Constellations of Summer shows a bucolic meadow under a cloudy blue sky, in which an undressed baby doll with long flowing hair sits facing the viewer, legs and arms outstretched. In the background, a luted Venetian angel sings his praises to the heavens. These collages are always a treat to see, but just begin to scratch the surface of this wildly prolific artist. CHAS BOWIE

Crowd Control

PCC Sylvania's Northview Gallery, 12000 SW 49th, 977-4264, through March 21

Linda Hutchins and Mark Smith create vibrant, abstract art from consumerist and industrial materials, and each artist creates art that might not be quite as randomly abstract as it first appears. The title of their Sylvania show, Crowd Control, applies most directly to Hutchins' 10x46' wall mural, Room with a View. This pulsing, dominating piece is a woven tapestry of the industrial ribbon used to mark off construction sites and hazardous zones. In hot colors designed to alarm, the ribbons shout "Danger" and "Warning." Hutchins has fastidiously woven and stapled hundreds of yards of the tape into an ultra-geo freakout that commands the entire room. Since the tape is specifically designed to grab your attention, a 460-square foot gingham pattern of it is an alarming sight. From across the gallery, one can make out a few basic geometric shapes that emerge from the chaos--a few right angles depict a set of chairs and a doorway. I'm not sure how much this adds to the piece (the enormous mural that could give Jim Isermann a seizure suddenly becomes a cautionary domestic scene?). I'd rather stand up close and be swallowed in its pulsating red and yellow.

Mark Smith also creates wall pieces that rely on prefab material: discarded clothing which the artist stuffs under bulging, clear vinyl. From far away, his pieces look simply like concentric circles, but contain a fascinating range of shapes, ridges, and bumps within the circular and oval forms. While one gets lost in the lines of Smith's mazes, their eyes travel over acres of old t-shirts, underwear, and windbreakers. The artist uses color like a painter, with sensitive nuance. So when I learned that these fantastic shapes are based on the floor plans of international coliseums, I felt disappointed. Sure, I caught the drift of people temporarily occupying a coliseum like they would a pair of blue jeans and then moving on, but this extra information made me feel like my previous appreciation of the work had been naîve and uninformed. I groaned when I realized that you can no longer trust a design in an art gallery, just like you have to be suspicious of any stripe or checkerboard painting.

So many artists are infusing patterns with secret codes these days you almost need a crypto-deciphering ring to look at abstract painting. Just like Tim Bavington's stripe paintings are encoded rock and roll songs, and Susie Rosmarin's hypnotic grid paintings signify pi carried to the thousandth integer. Smith, too, creates visually appealing abstractions with an obscure agenda. I hereby dub this cryptological pattern-making "SuperModernism." To see a fine example of it, form a single file line and head over to Crowd Control. CHAS BOWIE

Support The Portland Mercury

SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30