Art Preview: Saturation

Here's an alternative to the Oregon Biennial, before it even opens. Local art magalog (a magazine crossed with a catalog) Portland Modern is gaining in stature, and now it has an exhibition of the works seen in its current (May to October) issue.

Portland Modern is as good a showcase as any of emerging Portland artists, and owner Mark Brandau seems to have a handle on the twentysomething set.

This spring, Kristan Kennedy, who is the visual art coordinator at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and also a painter represented by Elizabeth Leach, and man of letters Matthew Stadler pored over slides, printouts and JPEGs from 150 artists. The only guide for artists and curators alike was a single word: saturation.

'We spent two and a half days looking at everything, in silence,' Kennedy says. 'Then we made a pile of the ones that provoked conversation between us.' That pile became the shortlist, finally reduced to the work of 25 artists.

Kennedy found herself particularly attracted to works by Alex Felton, who photographs his fairly crude drawings as he works to convert them into animations, and who sometimes extends his drawings onto the gallery wall.

Kennedy likes Chelsea Mosher's work, too - and not just because Mosher dates Bryan Seureth, the founder of Disjecta, where the show will hang. 'If I curated just on who people were dating that would be a scary show,' Kennedy says.

It's not all young kids. Jeannie Manville was born in 1959. 'Something about her painting was full of hope to us,' Kennedy says.

Stadler openly acknowledges that he doesn't have strong feelings about visual art the way he does about writing. He largely ignored the theme, saturation, since it was so broad as to be useless, and concentrated on what spoke to him. So Manville's 'Hospital View,' which shows a Portland hill with an out-of-perspective grid of houses on it, helped him in his ongoing quest to 'make sense of the built environment.'

He also was drawn to artists who were 'manipulating formal considerations' and enjoyed being 'freed from the tyranny of representation … Amber Bell's embroidery looks like a map of a Portland neighborhood I haven't found yet,' he says. 'I expect it would be around East Burnside,' he adds, reinforcing the perception that talking to the curators is more interesting than looking at the art.

Kennedy says they both found humor very attractive when looking at submissions. Stadler says Kennedy has a 'considerate and refined attraction to technical accomplishment in painting, (the work of) people who have a distinctive use of the brush, the way they push paint around.'

When looking at the submissions, the curators say they didn't take the common approach of doing it in isolation, without supplementary materials such as résumés and artist statements. They pretty much knew who was who just by looking: Portland's a small town. The persistent question of whether it produces small- town art or global-village art is raised here.

- Joseph Gallivan

Opening reception 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. FRIDAY, July 14; regular hours noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-SUNDAY, through Aug. 26, Disjecta, 230 E. Burnside St., 503-913-6884, www.portland, free

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