Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 9.18.08

Double Play
A slug-happy crawl through the good and bad
by Suzi Steffen

Confronted with the juror-selected art of the Mayor’s Art Show and the unselected but smartly hung art of the Salon des Refusés  — not to mention art from the Splinters group and at DIVA, Opus6ix, Fenario Gallery, La Follette and more — a person walking through downtown Eugene might be forgiven for wondering if anyone in town isn’t an artist.

Temple Jar with Rattle Lid, by Kenneth Standhardt
Closure, by Adriane Brown
Strength, by Charly Pritchard Wing

But even those of us who don’t work with brush, pen, wire looper or collage can feel the generalized satisfaction settling over the Eugene Celebration art shows and sense remnants of the elated joy emanating from Charly Pritchard Swing when her sculpture Strength won Best in Show at the Mayor’s Art Show.

Yes, or rather no, some of the work isn’t very good, especially (and obviously) at the Salon. True, there’s an abundance of almost-got-there-but-screwed-up-at-the-last-minute (one extremely large example of which I’ll talk about later). You might disagree with Mayor Kitty Piercy’s choice or the juror choice awards; I heard some sharp criticism of each award. Finally, a weird lack of video makes the two Celebration-related shows seem stuck in a time warp before conceptual art hit the scene. For all of that, it’s still surprising that a town this size produces so much interesting, engaging or appealing art.

Let me begin with the Mayor’s Art Show, specifically with some of the sculptures since Swing’s piece won Best in Show. The artist (who, full disclosure, is a friend) originally intended a commentary on gender, but as she worked on the piece, relatives battling cancer made her think about the strength necessary to live with and fight the disease — which perhaps led to the conversation I overheard at the opening, in which several women talked about how Strength was “about a woman with a mastectomy surviving breast cancer.” So, each to her own interpretation. 

Another sculpture that won a juror’s choice award is Linda Dyer’s Bremen Town Musicians. The whimsical piece, referring to a classic fairy tale, looks more like patina-covered bronze, a long-weathered piece perhaps of garden statuary — but it’s made of terra cotta. One piece that looks like its component materials is Temple Jar with Rattle Lid by the ever-reliable Kenneth Standhardt; in this case, the rattle lid with his trademark regular indentations adds interest to the textured bowl. Christine Paige’s Dance On superbly balances a sketched-at white brucite torso with a dark, intense basalt base. And a Mayor’s Art Show wouldn’t be a Mayor’s Art Show without a wildly colorful, society-critiquing piece by John “Teach” Girard, whose Fuel for Gas seems to suggest to my former Iowan brain that corn sits at the base of our industrial food pyramid, giving us some nasty processed food along with biofuel.

On the walls, the piece that dominates the rear of the gallery is J.S. Bird’s Shaman: The Star Maker, in which a costumed figure appears to give light to a massive chandelier. Colorful and containing lovely passages of dancing brushwork, this unframed canvas unfortunately undermines itself. Bird has painted the word “illuminate” in large letters from the figure to the light source — a clunky and unsubtle attempt to help viewers “get it.” Still, the playful swirls and colors attract the eye. Another unframed canvas (hung in a space too cramped for proper viewing), William Michael Ruller’s untitled, balances a skillful sketch with an equally attractive abstract square of light. 

To list a few more: Annette Gurdjian’s Man With Two Canes, a warmly hand-painted photo, appeals immediately and leaves an impression. Anne Duplant’s Tenzin Guatso, small though it is, impresses with its meticulous glass tapestry design in a thoughtfully crafted wooden stand. One of the two designer’s choice awards went to Marilyn Odland’s Darkness Was Upon the Face of the Deep, a title I took to be tongue in cheek for the cabinet of wonders-style piece showcasing small amphorae, coffee containers, milk bottles and fruit suspended on a velvety black background. Do Mi Stauber’s colored pencil piece called The Reaching Gaze recognizes and honors the dignity of an ancient tortoise. And Mary Lou Goertzen’s 3-D piece Sketches of My Snuggery mixes her charming sketches with the poignancy of loss and everyday life without someone deeply loved. I’d call it quirky, but it’s also emotionally intense.

But if I had an award to bestow, it would fall on the intellectually layered The Spanish Pretensions Fairly Discussed, a fantastic piece of letterpress printing by Steven Weeks. On top of a decommissioned (“withdrawn”) map of Argentina from the UO Department of Geology and Map Collection, Weeks printed a few paragraphs of an 18th-century British report concerning the rights of England to navigate Cape Horn. With strata of information to decode and Weeks’ attractive printing of an allusive, incomplete report, the piece hints at complexities of human history and motivation. It’s not colorful, but I think it’s tremendous. (Er, the People’s Choice award has yet to be awarded … but seriously, that award will be given during October’s First Friday Artwalk. Get your vote on at the Jacobs Gallery!)

Moving to the Salon des Refusés, where curator Steve LaRiccia was pleased to have 35 fewer pieces to hang (leaving one wall bare in New Zone’s hallway), I discovered amid fanfiction art and a ton of awkward paintings many fine photographs like Shawn Tamasaka’s humorous/alarming Playing Chicken, Barbara Bakalarova’s revelatory Old Flame, Kit Sibert’s amusing Avoiding Phillip Guston and Carmen Bayley’s secret world on a Paris Rooftop

The usual political pieces sprinkle themselves throughout the Salon, and Ellen Furstner’s textile called Darfur Camp Women easily stands out as the best of them. Of the many other works, Anne Bullock’s sculpture One (displayed in the window) and Adriane Brown’s Closure leapt out as top pieces. At the Salon, you can give $5 donations to the artists to award their work with ribbons (and them with money).

But hell, don’t take my word. Get downtown, get arty, and snipe, critique, rejoice and celebrate for yourself. 

The Jacobs Gallery is under the Hult Center, and the Mayor’s Art Show is open through Oct. 16; New Zone lies between Olive and Charnelton on Broadway, and the Salon stays up through Oct. 17th.