Untitled, 1963

My family’s trip to the Portland Art Museum started with a tantrum, thrown by me.

“But you said we could see Mark Rothko!” I cried. “I’m not going to the zoo, and that’s final!

It was one of those 20-something moments when you realize your Very Mature Attitude is one slip away from a ride on the teenage whaaambulance. If it’s in the name of Rothko, I say go for it.

I’m sure the (usually depressed) Portland zebras were frolicking on that sunny Saturday, but we were headed indoors. So there.


Untitled (three women and a child with mannequins), 1936/1937

It was a warm enough afternoon that stepping off the sidewalk and into the chilly air was like deflating. Once all the hot air had hissed away, our arms and legs were rubbery and useless.

I think we looked like Rothko’s early Picasso-esque figures, with their droopy eyes and flabby limbs. My family didn’t see the resemblance and quickly proceeded, hackles raised, toward the second half of the show.


Untitled, 1945

As we walked through, nudes were replaced with curly spiders that awkwardly hovered on abstract planes. Suddenly all form was gone, clearing the way for my family’s scorn.

“What a great painter,” said Sarah (16) with impressive ferocity, staring at a muddy stack of brown and black rectangles. My brother Jacob (11) took a look and, finding nothing of interest, drifted out of the gallery with my dad in tow.

Only my friend Julianna, who’d tagged along to Portland for other business, stuck around. She followed me for a bit, observing me observing the work.

“Why do people like this stuff?” she asked. I sighed and searched my brain for an answer.

The truth is, I didn’t actually know that I liked Rothko until that day. Looking at pictures and reading analyses left me just as confused as anyone. I mean, look at this picture of the Rothko Chapel and tell me you understand what the fuss is about.

I babbled to Julianna for a while about the ideas behind abstract expressionism: the effort to return painting to its essential flatness, to create landscapes that only our eyes can travel through, to focus on painting as its own subject. At some point, I realized that my art babble and vigorous gesticulation weren’t getting through.

“Just look at those colors!” I finally said, pulling her closer to one of the paintings.


Untitled, 1963 (original is on left, “clarity” filter is on the right)

Color is what it’s really about, dear reader, though I’m afraid you’ll have to meet a Rothko in person to see what Julianna saw. In the meantime, take a look at my MAGICAL THERMAL IMAGE detail from the first photo.

Look at the shifting hues, as subtle and vibrant as those of a peacock feather. Forget about all the high fallutin’ theories and just let your eyes run across the brushstrokes. Are they not euphoric?

Rothko was a master of elaborate color dances. What happens when you pair red and purple? Both colors change. Now add some green. All three colors spin in entirely different directions. Feast your eyes:


Orange on Red, 1956 (with detail)


Untitled, 1969 (with detail)

“I still don’t get it,” said Julianna.

“Does that make you feel angry? Frustrated?” I asked.

“Frustrated, yes,” said Julianna, heading over to a bench and plopping down dejectedly.

Don’t run away, oh Rothko haters. As long as you’re feeling something, that’s good. It’s okay to love to hate Mark Rothko, but don’t stop playing the game. Just try not to spit on the art.


  • Sarah Refvem is showing next week at the Laverne Krause!! Here’s my original post on her, and here’s a profile I did on her for the Queen Bee Collective.


This is my fanatical face

O, The Pilgrims! They dipped their brains in Vermeer yellow and dotted them with gaping Picasso eyes and fortified them with flying buttresses. Seeking rebirth, they sailed across the Atlantic to the neon mosaic of Manhattan and played among its multicolored tesserae. They learned to inhabit the uninhabitable thicket of a Pollock and love the unlovable toilet of Duchamp.

A pilgrim isn’t a pilgrim with rooted feet, and so they sought out a new frontier. It was an artless place, a wasteland of lost people who could hardly feel the earthquake of New York and would never stand on the unshakeable marble of Europe.

To travel to this Northwest and spread the Word was a matter of moral obligation–and destiny.

If you don’t believe that this story could be conveyed in a single glance, you don’t know my art history teacher. I went to her office to discuss the latest interpretation of “Fountain” and the conversation eventually swung around to my blog.

“I adventure around Eugene and write about art,” I explained. She fixed me with the puzzled, pitying look of an enlightened art missionary.

“But, really, what is there to see?” she said. “I lived in New York for eight years. There’s nothing in Eugene.”

She really and truly said this, in her adorable European accent. It was a bit of a punch to the face but it wasn’t a shock. I was three weeks into my arts reporting class, which leans heavily on “The New York Times Reader: Arts and Culture.” The book is a brilliant collection of arts pieces but the introduction (and everything else written by editor Don McLeese) reads like propaganda.

The New York times gives critics more space and it takes their work more seriously than any other general-interest news organization in the country (if not the world).

Something about the smug little note at the end really does it. Don McLeese, I pronounce you the king of parenthetical snobbery…

Other cities may approach New York’s significance in various arts (we’ll give the movies to Hollywood), but no publication rivals The Times as the epicenter of arts and culture criticism, most broadly defined.

He’ll give the West Coast the Transformers franchise, but we’d better keep our grubby hands off everything else.



I’m being mean, but that’s only because love hurts. I fell hard for New York last December when I accompanied my Dad on a business trip there. While he worked, I wandered the streets in a giant grey coat, sipping lattes and listening to “Empire State of Mind” over and over.

New York’s buildings are so big that everything looks small afterward. Its art is so great that nothing will ever compare. It feels like the news, like culture, like the center of the world. That’s what I thought after one week, so you really can’t blame Don McLeese. His eyes have been filled with skyscrapers for years.

To leave New York and return to a small city in the Pacific Northwest was a heartbreaker. The affair continued from afar with a subscription to the New Yorker, but I knew I’d never be complete until I lived there.

Over the next few months, I transformed into something worse than a snobby New Yorker. I was a snobby New Yorker wannabe, willfully blinding myself to all but the most romantic notions of the Big Apple. By the time I’d hung a framed photo of the Empire State Building on my wall, I was vaguely aware that I might be getting duped. The Mad Men had me good.

After a long, lonely winter I started applying for NYC museum internships for next year. As Don McLeese will tell you many, many times, any aspiring arts writer must live in New York. Did I say “applying” just then? Actually, all of the deadlines had passed. I was forced to broaden my scope to the nowhere of everywhere else.


Memory, all alone in the moooonlight

That’s how I landed an internship at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, NM. When I started telling people about it I got two reactions.

Nearly everyone: “What’s in Santa Fe? Cacti?”

One person: “Santa Fe? That has, like, the third largest art market in the country.”

This offhand comment made me incredibly excited. I mentioned it later to the head of the O’Keeffe program.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “I think it’s actually the second largest.”

If Santa Fe can’t decide whether it’s second or third, then there’s probably at least one other burgeoning arts center out there that isn’t really sure either. Maybe there are dozens of places that thrive even in the shadow of the all-important NYC.

Santa Fe is now a few weeks away, and I’m thinking of asking my art history teacher on a blog adventure.

“Come explore Eugene with me,” I’ll say. “It’s either the 2nd, or 3rd, or 172nd largest art market in the country.”

She’ll roll her eyes and I’ll smile. Welcome to the Wild West, prof. Grab your shotgun cuz we’re going art huntin’!

P.S. Coming up: Mark Rothko! You’re going to love it… or love to hate it.


What. The. Fudge.

Those are (approximately) the words that accompanied the three Kodak moments above. It’s not often that you understand something less as you get closer to it, except for maybe that one museum in Seattle.

Eventually, I remembered that someone in one of my classes had mentioned an on-campus carnival. She’d failed to note that entering said event would involve passing under the buns of a hairy man doing a squat. It all looked very freaky, so of course I had to return…


…In the night.

Carnivals are so bland and flat in the day, but at night everything glows and tilts and swirls. It’s hard to tell if the world is about to tip over or you are.

The event turned out to be a giant promotion for Adult Swim, the cable network that has nothing to do with swimming or adults. I was disappointed, as analyzing artvertising almost always feels like selling out. Then I was distracted by this:

Yes, that is a unicorn helmet on the girl’s head. No, you didn’t see the same stunt in the trailer for Project X. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in the sequel, though. In one corner, a drunk dude with a unicorn helmet. In the other, a high dude in a zorb ball. Who will win the duel?

I realized that I wouldn’t be reviewing the art of carnivals that night, but the art of a carefully targeted marketing stunt. The targets? Teenage boys who think they’re 20-something frat boys, and 20-something frat boys who think they’re teens.


Unicorn Man and “Breathe if you’re horny” jellyfish (???)

The carnival world of Adult Swim is populated by a horde of bizarre cartoon characters. I’m sure they all have names, but we can just talk about them as a group. Let’s call them the Bad House Guests.

Any house guest stinks after three days, but the Bad House Guests clearly come pre-musked. They’re the kind of people who show up and claim to be friends with one of your roomies, but change the subject when you ask which. They dominate the television and watch The Real World repeats. They eat your Cheetos and leave orange streaks on your drinking glasses. They wet the couch.

Could you imagine letting one of these things stay in your home? Now imagine claiming the “Breathe if you’re horny” jellyfish as your hero, your role model. What does Unicorn Man (who appears to be about 40) say to his perma-adolescent viewers?

“Neigh. I’m an immortal unicorn. Want to play Grand Theft Auto, like, forever?”


A rather large group of people had gathered for the carnival. They looked like they were in the end stages of a rave (dazed, crazed, spent and wet), but they were valiantly trying to win crappy Adult Swim merchandise in various carnival games.

All of the games were harbingers of the emotional spiral ensured by the couch-wetting lifestyle. There was “Baby vs. Man” (the inner struggle), “Toilet Bowel” (the post-Cheetos physical battle), and a game where you have to climb into the mouth of a giant cat:



(Maybe this represents the discontented girlfriend?)

So perhaps this whole Adult Swim thing is actually a giant public service announcement.

“Don’t go down this path!” it says. “It will lead to bald loneliness!”

All of the warnings seemed very clear to me, but everyone else was having too much fun to catch them. Maybe I’m just a spoilsport, or a snob. Maybe I’m judging a TV network by an inflataman’s weird crotch bulge.

Or maybe I’m right. Take note, youngsters.

I like to think the pocket camera (a.k.a. iThing) has democratized rather than cheapened the art of photography. If the blurry distinction between amateur and master photographer floats somewhere in the realm of 100,000 photographs, we’re all much farther along than we might have been a generation ago.

Of course, part of the intrigue of instant photography is its function as a mousetrap that strangles quality. An iThing’s mean little eye is sharp, but when paired with our shaky hands and half-formed compositional skills, its products become near-exact replicas of their ancestral Polaroids (with dashes of pixels to mark the digital divide). Last century’s pop artists routinely threw themselves into this trap with results that still fill us with superficial but alluring nostalgia. Hello, Mr. Warhol.

I pondered all of this as I stood in front of the photo booth at Holly GoSlugly’s decadent Midnight in Manhattan bash at the JSMA on Saturday. In its minimalistic incarnation, the “booth” was a tall white box with an iPad stuck to its side and the Pocketbooth app running.

The booth was set at the edge of a staircase where sweaty party animals would routinely escape for some fresh air. I flipped through the evening’s frivolous photographic experiments and discovered an interesting reaction to the iWorld’s limitless exposure.

Here were dozens of Instagram savvy people working resolutely against the photo booth’s built-in spontaneity, posing and preening like the reality TV stars we’ve all become. It was a sort of backlash against the whiplash of an instant society.

The photos I’ve presented above are exceptions, candid moments that are so often deleted to make room for more plastic smiles. A kiss provokes a sloppy grin, a brow furrows in surprise, a mustache falls, spectacles obscure and masks slip. The mistakes give us a glimpse into what our thousand-gigabyte clouds of digital snaps might be missing.

Take a moment and consider the beauty and rarity of the (truly) candid camera.


Ecosex goddess with a bullhorn

“Lick the ground! Lick it!” called Annie Sprinkle to the small group clustered under an enormous sequoia. She’d already directed us onto our knees and had us press our foreheads to the earth. Now our little yoga class was getting weirder.

“Taste Mother Earth, or maybe just caress her. Run your hands across her curves,” said Sprinkle, her voice wavering excitedly. “But only if you feel comfortable.”

I suppose I should have expected this from an “Ecosexy Walking Tour” run by a former porn star, but I didn’t have much time to prepare myself. Just a few minutes before, I’d bumped into a graduate teaching fellow from my art history class.

“Are you going on the ecosexywalkingtourwithanniesprinkle?” she said, looking at me like I was a delicious tofu patty.

“The… wait, what?” I said.



Now, as I pretended to French kiss a patch of pine needles, I was getting a bit worried. Ever wonder if you could have resisted the Kool-Aid? I had my answer, and it wasn’t good.

Sprinkle was a porn star in the 70’s, a porn director in the 80’s, has been in a monogamous relationship since the 90’s, and is now an environmental crusader. Or should I say dominator? Only with the tree’s consent, of course.

None of this interested me very much, at least past an initial vulgar curiosity about Sprinkle’s self-proclaimed “ecosexuality.” What really held my attention was that my GTF had described Sprinkle (with utmost seriousness) as a performance artist. The fact that she’d been invited by the UO Department of Art upped her cred even more. Having just studied the Fluxus movement, I had to bite.

Fluxus was a disparate group of 1960’s artists that saw no boundary between art and life. To them, every mundane moment was a work of art. Their pieces had less to do with producing a final product (like, say, a painting) than experiencing an event. They called these events “happenings,” which could be anything from building an ice palace on a blazing hot day to licking jam off the hood of a car. You know, everyday stuff.

Sprinkle’s eco-neo-Fluxual performance, clearly organized into a series of happenings, felt like strange serendipity. Actually, it felt rough, like the bark of a tree.


The Sprinkle-Stephens Scale of ecosexuality

The first few happenings had been orientations. We’d picked earth names (my new brothers and sisters: Damp Soil, Caves, Mowed Grass, Jellyfish), looked over the Ecosex Manifesto (“I promise to love, honor and cherish you Earth, until death brings us closer together forever”), and reviewed the Sprinkle-Stephens scale (based on Kinsey’s, but greener). Now we were taking the relationship to the next level.

“You really want it to be a full-body hug,” explained Sprinkle’s co-host, Portland eco-sex shop owner Kim Marks. Sprinkle nodded, keeping an eye on us as we approached the tree. You’d better not be giving Mother Earth no side hug, child.


Hugging the sequoia was what you might call my transcendent moment. It was warm and comfy, and there was a spectacular view of the canopy. For a second, I stopped wanting to giggle or roll my eyes and existed within the happening. This is the whole point, I think. Or it would be the point if there was one, but that’s not the point.

I had class, so I cut out early while Sprinkle lead her followers off to find their “e-spots.” My departure was probably a good thing, as everyone had started complaining about last month’s “treeicide” and my earth name happened to be Snow.

As a gimmicky performer, Sprinkle was pretty good. She can spin out ecosex jokes like only a porn veteran could, and she slipped in some good messages about environmental stewardship and safe sex.

As a performance artist, at least in the Fluxus sense, Sprinkle left something to be desired. The Fluxus folks definitely had a sense of humor, but they fiercely believed in their art. Sprinkle’s happenings were all gags- bizarre, yes, but far from the brink of true Fluxus absurdity. Her imagined ecocult with its rituals, charts and chants was ludicrously intricate, but seemed a bit flat and overdone when dropped in the hippie hotbed of Eugene.

On the other hand, famous Fluxian Yoko Ono has probably been an ecosexual at some point in the last eight decades.

BONUS: Earth Day is comin’ up. Learn 25 ways to love the earth from Annie Sprinkle herself…


Box, Alex Keyes

It’s been raining and hailing lately, and my soundtrack has been that new song by Regina Spektor called “All the Rowboats.” Experience the brooding theatrics:

It’s quite the techno diversion for an indie pop queen, but the lyrics are classic Regina. She visits an art museum- or “tomb”- and gives it her peculiar, melancholy spin.

“First there’s lights out, then there’s lock up/
Masterpieces serving maximum sentences/
It’s their own fault for being timeless/
There’s a price to pay, and a consequence”

Great, Regina. If kids these days don’t think museums are boring, now they’ll think they’re creepy. Mausoleums indeed!

I can’t get enough of the tune though, and it has colored my perception of the art I’ve seen lately. Like, for example, it was blasting through my headphones for the 87th time when I entered “Sam and the Boys,” the Laverne Krause exhibition by first-year MFA students.

“They will hang there, in their gold frames/ For forever, forever and a day,” screamed Regina as I spun through a claustrophobic cardboard corridor. Go to 1:20 in that video and you’ll see sort of exactly what happened. It was like that Duchamp painting but with less nudity.

Then, at the height of my frenzy, I stumbled straight into all of the MFA students discussing their show.


I pulled out my headphones and stared dumbly at the circle of artists. Alex Keyes was discussing his Box labyrinth, which I’d just nearly trampled.

“I wanted it to be a kind of playground,” he explained. The piece is a grand throwback to childhood, when a giant box could be anything we imagined.

As the group moved on through the corridors, I realized just how blind I’d been. Regina, you are my siren and your pretty weird song is the rocky shore.


I passed through the boxes again, this time much more slowly. Other gallery goers navigating the maze laughed as they hit dead ends and peered through cracks. This was a piece with a sense of humor.

The sides of the enormous boxes are divided into giant grids with masking tape. My freed mind was picking up on cheeky references to abstract expressionism. The boxes are almost like giant sketches or 3-D models of Rothkos or Mondrians. It’s color field painting minus the color… and the painting.


Eight Images/One Photograph, Jonathan Bagby

Keyes’ piece divides his classmates’ art into three little isolation pods. A mixed media monstrosity called “Do’s and Don’ts In Bear Country” was garnering most of the attention, but I was more interested in the other side of the room. Jonathan Bagby, who we last saw in the BROSHOW (FOSHO) SHOW, fleshed out the Box conversation with an abstract composition of his own. Stark white lines divide a mysterious ether that could be anything from wisps of smoke to Jell-O puke.

To the left of Bagby’s photograph sits Keyes’ most triumphant box. In the center of a tiny square, which at first seems to be just another part of the composition, is a hole through which you can see…

Alex Keyes and John Whitten

Can you tell what it is? Go and play, and maybe you’ll find out. But leave your shiny iThings at home.

Confidential to Rosie: I really meant it about that art walk!


David Gibbs and his Jell-O ‘stache

“Well, I use mustache wax every day,” said David Gibbs. All he had to do was add a sprinkle of gelatin powder and- voila!- a magnificent blue caterpillar. It turns out Jell-O has that bedazzling effect on most things. Perhaps somewhere on its list of mysterious ingredients (disodium phosphate? fumaric acid?) is the scientific term for fairy dust.

Need more evidence than a vibrant upper lip? Last night, Gibbs, a horde of local creatives and a giant mass of Jell-O turned the Maude Kerns gallery into a constantly jiggling, entirely edible wonderland.


…Or at least that’s one version of what happened.

“What’s in Jell-O exactly?” I wondered aloud, inspecting a “blackberry fusion”-flavored box of the stuff. Before my lovely companion Melissa could respond, two gruff gents at the end of the bar chimed in.

“I hear it’s got cow hooves!” said one.

“Animal products,” agreed the other.

“All I know is processed fruits are bad for you,” said the bartender, inspecting one of the boxes I’d scavenged from my cupboard.

Melissa and I were doing research of sorts at the Tiny Tavern on Blair Blvd. She’s a local food writer who pens Two Pots of Coffee and a Slice of Pie at Midnight and Dispatch from a Yellow Bicycle when she’s not, you know, writing articles for the Register-Guard and food guides for Eugene Magazine.

I’d thought it was only natural to invite a food blogger to a Jell-O art show, but now I was facing an undeniable truth: Jell-O is hardly natural. In more discerning circles, it may not even be considered food.


“We built this city on Jell-O rolls,” unknown

What, then, to make of the Kerns’ annual competition and its strictly mandated medium? When you’re molding to this year’s themes of “Occupy Jell-O” and “End of the World,” perhaps the more unnatural qualities of the goo actually work with you. What could show the instability of a recession or the meltdown of the apocalypse better than a material that turns into a slimy puddle before your eyes?

I have no doubt that 80’s band Starship, if they’d thought of it, would have included a Jell-O metropolis in their fiercely earnest video for “We Built This City.” “Someone always playing corporation games/Who cares they’re always changing corporation names.” They were like so ahead of their time, man.


16, David Gibbs

16 had wholly crossed the bridge from the snackable to the sculptural, and it wasn’t looking back. Gibbs started with 8 pounds of gelatin and several ponds of food coloring, applied heat and created this Seuss-meets-and-tangles-with-Tim Burton confection.

“It smells like spray paint,” said Melissa, taking a long whiff like the good food critic she is. Okay, so maybe “confection” is the wrong word.


Occupied, Jeff & Leah

But look yonder- a twist served sunny side up! Though eating Jell-O makes her queasy, Melissa was instantly salivating when she saw this hyper realistic and ├╝ber gelatinous breakfast layout.

“They even made Jell-O coffee!” marveled Melissa.

We deemed Occupied the winner of the night, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Jeff and Leah had successfully closed the gap between art and food using the most unreliable of glues.


We The Peeps (Occupy Jell-O Zone), James Carwile

…Or at least they almost did. If only this marshmallow death pit hadn’t been jiggling nearby. The slimy little Peeps reminded me of the body parts floating in jars from the laboratories of movie mad scientists. Perhaps Melissa was thinking the same thing.

“How much of that Jell-O could you eat?” I asked.

“How much could I eat, or how much could I eat without puking?” she asked.

“Without puking,” I said.

“The blue Peep in the back row,” she answered.

If all this talk is making you a little green, take heart. Jell-O probably doesn’t look much different on the return journey.


So there you have it: the art has been reviewed, and the food pooh-poohed. For safety reasons.

BIG BONUS: Click here for Melissa’s review of the Tiny Tavern, with cameo by yours truly. You should also probably follow her on Twitter.