Monday, January 31, 2005

Some Art I Saw

Lucky for you, I am posting this post-weekend (meaning I went somewhere and did something) and pre workout (meaning I am unencumbered by post-workout endorphins, thus more lucid and less prone to expound on my achievements in treadmill dancing).

Yesterday, Drew and I went to the Portland Art Museum to view some Art. This was, surprisingly for someone who spends a lot of time creating what could, in some circles, be considered "art" and lives 10 minutes from downtown Portland, the first time I've been to this particular art museum. I'm been to many art galleries, but have avoided the museum until now, for reasons not interesting enough to waste your time on.

Of course, not all of the Art on display provoked enough synaptic activity to produce a memory of it 24 hours later, but here are some comments on a few pieces that did:

  • I have read a lot of art books. I understand the processes behind contemporary art. Yet so much contemporary art makes me want to make snide, or maybe rube-like comments to those studying it with pretentiously thoughtful looks on their faces.
  • One of my favorite contemporary Art pieces was a really big canvas painted black, with a title that went something like, "The Flag Should Not Be A Religious Symbol." No, it wasn't a flag painted black. That, it seems to me, might have been a political statement worthy of some thought, if not a prominent place in a major city museum. This just seemed to be a lot of black paint.
  • How do the Art Poobahs decide that, say, a canvas painted yellow with a vertical orange stripe through it is Art, but the canvas painted avocado green with a blue stripe going diagonally is unworthy dreck?
  • Enough about contemporary art. I'm sure I'm just exposing my ignorance.
  • The PAM currently has on exhibit a great collection of art from Native Indians who lived along the Columbia River.
  • I was surprised that Columbia River native art had so little in common with the much more well-known art of the Native Indian tribes from the Northern Washington and British Columbia areas, who were well known for their stylized and colorful symbols denoting animals such as the thunderbird, killer whale, coyote and bear that show up on totem poles, houses, boats and such. The Columbia River artists used stylized designs, but the abstractions are much different, and I saw many more symbols of people, compared to those of animals.
  • If we Euro-centric people think we invented the use of abstraction and symbolism in art, we are so mistaken. The Native Indians were doing it way before we were.
  • The Native Indians along the Columbia River had a funky, stylized way of depicting people in stone carvings that included a Y-shaped brow-nose ridge, ribs, and vertebrae in back. They must not have had much of a problem with fat concealing their ribs.
  • The Native Indian art took a sharp turn once they were contacted by white civilization. Yes, it got more colorful with the use of better tools, lots of shiny beads, and more dyes. But it soon lost much of its symbolism and decayed into more realistic depictions of buffaloes (buffaloes? here?), Native Indian chiefs wearing headresses, horses, and other marketable subjects.
  • Enough about the Native Indian exhibit. Last word: I liked it, and want to sketch some of the early, pre-contact stuff.
  • The Asian exhibits: another group of civilizations that had us beat way before we were aware they existed. And one awesome wood horse with a funny expression. And one even awesomer ceramic dog that, I'll bet you anything, was done by some Chinese dude's 9-year-old son in pottery class, and is now in a museum, mislabeled as a great example of Bling-Dynasty (or whatever) pottery.
  • The European exhibits: There was a period in European history in which there was, in essence, one subject: The Bible. My question: if all you have to paint is the Virgin Mary and her baby Jesus, wouldn't you pay a little closer attention to what a baby really looks like? Those are some of the goofiest looking babies. Some of them look like tiny grown-ups. Some look like that slightly warped-looking talking baby from that Quizno's commercial. Some of them, although strolling around naked, thus apparently over eight days old, are obviously not Jewish babies, if you know what I mean. Where did they keep the babies in those days, and why didn't artists have any access to them?

I'll have to stop myself out of mercy for you. Sorry, that probably wasn't much fun to read, but I feel a little better. See you at the Art Museum. Drew won't be coming.

Discussion Topic: What would you say to someone thoughtfully studying a piece of art consisting of a yellow canvas with a red line running vertically and slightly off center, entitled "Polemics of Ennui II"?


Dean said...

My reply: "What a sellout. I saw the the original Polemics of Ennui back in '98 when it was still showing out of a basement and it was way better."

piglet said...

Good one! How about, "Didn't I see this at the swap meet down by the tractor pull last weekend?"

daddio said...

I'd punch him in the throat and say "pretentious..."