A visit to the Portland Art Museum this week began with a terrific visual assault of towering walls covered in 19th century style, oversized wall paper. These walls are then covered with paintings, hung salon style, from the museum’s collection. They refer to the rich bounty of the Oregon Territory. In the center of the huge Schnitzer Gallery are multiple sculptures combined to create a new sculpture. The whole thing is a giant assemblage of museum images and this incredible wallpaper inspired in some sense by Oregon’s origins.
A quote from the Oregon Trail introduces the idea of the artists David Allen Burns and Austin Young: “…I was upon the summit of a tall mountain which commands a bewildering prospect of that loved valley… The birds of autumn caroled their soft melodies around, and the blushing flowret bent at the feet of the intruder… Away to the north was the smoke wreathing above the trees which clustered around the lone mission-house and I thought there was an altar to God, and incense from the bosom of the wilderness.” —Excerpt from A Sketch of the Oregon Territory, or Emigrant’s Guide, Philip L. Edwards, 1842.
As I was leaving that gallery to view the Seeing Nature exhibit, I overheard an older “him” say to “her”—“for a small, po-dunk town like Portland, this is a really nice museum.”
The Allen Collection, Seeing Nature, is stunning. It will move on from Portland to the Phillips Collection in Washington DC and then to Seattle. See it while you can. It is also poetic. But there is an interesting side note to the exhibition that is also one of Paul Allen’s (and my) interests—how the brain sees and interprets the visual world. There is a 5.30-minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-7mO2FhaVE&sns=em that is worth a look before you go.
Both of these exhibits speak to the complex makeup of the visual arts. The formal elements, which are necessary for the viewer to grab onto the vision and the conceptual context, which provides meaning, are presented in a rich weave of ideas. Back and forth. Back and forth. Yum. The heart and soul that make up the “Duende”– the complex, mercurial element that elevates the work, pulsates in the halls.
There’s a third exhibit that one visit couldn’t handle. Needless to say I’m going back soon.
A day of beauty, ideas, poetry, heart and soul—more than the sum of its parts.