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Photographs

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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.

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Christie’s

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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Frost has settled on the swings
Oh, what a maze a blizzard brings
We pace the empty streets
Until our fingers sting

Lying on the marble lawns
We bask in haze of endless dawn
And face a quiet life
With all that lingered gone

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Sun

Mist can creep between your bones
And whisper things you’ve always known
And seep into the edges
Where the fences groan

Skating on the sleeping lake
We fall along with frozen flakes
And scream to see if ice
Will wince and break

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untitled

A hundred nights on snowbank bed
I wonder when I’ll lift my head
And see the light touch vast horizon
Dark and dead

‘Til the melt with you I’ll stay
Rooted here in hardened clay
Preserving things past felt
In hibernating day

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Georgia

In winter the whole world is left exposed
We’re honest as the weather so we know
We’re only stuck together cuz we’re froze
And so we wait and hold each other close

Photos by my dad, poetry by me!

*See the frozen shapes. Wonder how the last shot got its title. Compose the music for me.

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Just inside the Laverne Krause Gallery stands the ambassador of this week’s show, a hinged white box with two tiny explosions of tangled hair erupting from it. The abstract figure embodies everything that the “BROSHOW(FOSHO) SHOW” is at first glance: playful and a little heavy-handed.

Witness the pile of tire shreds, the video montage of dubbed-over action scenes and the field of ripped and melted dolls, and you’re bound to feel shell-shocked… or maybe just numb, like that hairy box.

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Ew.

I actually had to view the BROSHOW twice before writing this. Manhood is, despite (or because of) the boxy stereotypes, a very complex state of being.

Next to the box art is a long printout of a Google image search for “manly man.” If you click that last link, you’ll see how little wiggle room there is in the definition of an ideal man. The leader of the pack is a retro gent holding a beer. “Being an a**hole is all part of my manly existence” says the accompanying text.

I will never be like the aggressive musclemen who populate this list, and I try to make myself believe that I don’t want to be. But I do but I don’t but I do.

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Of course, if you peel back those onion layers, there’s usually a sweet, bromantic center. Two low-key photographs form the heart of the show.

The first, an image of a TV screen showing a tuxedoed man with flowers, reminded me of my parents’ wedding photos. In those pictures, my 20-something dad doesn’t look rugged or mean, but he does look strong and handsome. Could this picture be making a similar comment on a more real, graceful state of manhood?

Something tells me the use of a second frame (the TV screen) is pointing us toward the media or advertising. It’s still a refreshing meditation amid the carnage, though.

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The second image is something of a mystery. A blindfolded man gets a shave from his buddy, who is naked but for a pair of Nike short-shorts and spectacles. It’s a vulnerable moment that digs deeper than any other piece in the show. Brotherly love is, by nature, largely undiscussed among men. The brilliantly composed shot shines a touching light on it.

All in all, I’d call the BROSHOW one of the most striking exhibitions I’ve seen at the Krause. If only the show’s multifaceted heft could have been matched by a little more attention to detail. That last photo was hung with paper clips, and none of the pieces were titled. That’s men, I guess.

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Portraits by David Joyce

I don’t know which surprised me more, discovering the Eugene Airport’s famous flying folks in the bottom of the Hult Center on Friday or seeing my friend Anthony’s reaction to them.

We were headed to the Jacobs Gallery when I popped my head into The Studio, which was packed with dapper, slightly tipsy grown-ups huddled around long tables. One glimpse at the peculiar table settings, and I too was drawn like a magnet.

“It’s the flying people!” I gushed. “Aren’t they wonderful? Aren’t they hilarious? Aren’t they priceless?”

The 130-ish cutouts have lined a wall of the airport since 1989, and are now being sold off and replaced with sturdier prints. They’re the creative spawn of David Joyce, who invited 1980’s Eugeneans to pose like Superman on a mattress in his studio. Ever since, the decreasingly fashionable but eternally lovable figures have been adored by all who lay eyes on them. Well, except maybe Anthony.

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Anthony is a Pennsylvania man, accent and all, and he was not buying into the hysteria.

“They’re a little… tacky,” he said. Or at least I think that’s the word he used. It also could have been “corny,” “kitschy” or “godawful.” His mouth said one of those words, and his eyes said the rest.

I was utterly perplexed by his response. It was like having someone tell you that they hate your miniature pony. Who hates miniature ponies!?

Perhaps I’d lost touch with the outside world, like one of the “locals” you laugh at in those annoying romantic comedies where the city slicker gets stuck in Nowheresville. Do the flying people fit between wife carrying and Gospodor’s monument, as weird regional things that everyone else thinks is laughably ridiculous?

“You look like him,” said Anthony, holding up a cutout of a gent with black frames goofily mugging for the camera. Well, that confirmed it. (If you don’t get the joke, just refresh this page a couple times)

The monochrome figures, set against the vacuum of the black table cloth, suddenly looked as though they were falling rather than flying. Their outstretched fingers were now grasping at thin air, and they seemed to call, “Help us, Jordan! Save us from our big hair and our tall white gym socks!”

All I could do was give them a sad shake of my head and push up my spectacles to show them that I, too, was doomed. That’s when I caught a glimpse of a glittering headpiece through my newly centered goggles.

It was a former SLUG Queen (an Old Queen to be precise), and though I didn’t know which Queen I’d caught sight of, she was my sliming beacon of hope.

Perhaps, in my mind, the Queen was a symbol of my town’s self aware pride of its corny, kitschy god-awfulness. Or perhaps she enabled me to slip back into the comfort of joyful obliviousness to the tackiness of sequins or ugliness of Birkenstocks-with-socks.

In any case, Anthony’s home state is the land of Punxsutawney Phil, symbol of the most ridiculous small town tradition ever. If Phil and Queen Holly GoSlugly were in a fight, I’d put my money on the gastropod.

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Julia Holtzman, “Don’t Look @ Me”

I just saw Me and You and Everyone We Know by Miranda July for the first time. If you haven’t seen it, watch this goldfish death scene, and you’ll get the gist. The movie was a perfect addendum to a day full of strange encounters and interesting characters.

Six of those people live in the same woman, whose name is Julia Holtzman. These identities, from a police officer to an Amy Winehouse lookalike, are tacked in a quirky lineup along the wall of the Laverne Krause this week. They’re connected by a long red line of lipstick, and point to a television screen.

On it is an old woman hobbling along a busy sidewalk. She turns toward the camera and reveals a smooth face. It’s Julia. She starts to cross a street but drops her cane, and a passing gentleman scoops it up for her. For a second he seems to look into her eyes, but then he has vanished from the frame. Did he even see her at all?

With every flicker of the television screen, Julia’s identity fractures. Suddenly she’s a spy of some sort, sitting conspicuously at a cafe in a fake mustache and fedora. Then she’s just Julia, peering into a mirror and scribbling the apparent title of the piece, “Don’t Look @ Me.”

In the row of portraits, every character stares straight into the camera- and nearly leans out of the frame- except Julia herself. She stares into a mirror, pensive and vulnerable. The message seems to be, “Don’t look at me, look at them.” But her worried eyes reveal a person who, above all, wants to be seen for exactly who she is.

Holtzman has promise as an actress (her often manic characters would fit perfectly in an SNL skit), but someone who can so confidently be me, you and everyone we know has a bigger challenge first. She must learn to be herself. And she knows it.