Being Present: Revisiting, Somewhat Unfaithfully, Portland’s Most Experimental Art Experiment, PCVA

Review

Being Present: Revisiting, Somewhat Unfaithfully, Portland’s Most Experimental Art Experiment, PCVA

By Laurel V. McLaughlin February 19, 2020

Curatorial agency Triple Candie (Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett) takes an avowedly “unfaithful” approach to the archive in the exhibition Being Present: Revisiting, Somewhat Unfaithfully, Portland’s Most Experimental Art Experiment, PCVA, on view through June 14, 2020 at the Portland Art Museum, OR and organized by Sara Krajewski. “Unfaithful” is the operative word, but so too is “present.” Tasked with responding to the newly-acquired Portland Center for the Visual Arts (PCVA) archive, the duo resists strict chronology, taxonomic precision, and nostalgic reverence, and instead subsumes viewers within Foucaultian archival relations—personalities, funding structures, and reimagined histories—rather than passive collections.

The exhibition is split between two PCVA institutional “acts”—as Triple Candie calls them—the 1970s and 1980s. In the exhibition’s first chapter, Triple Candie creates surrogates, or unfaithful reproductions, that approximate and parody the work of artists featured at PCVA in the 1970s. Viewers are surrounded by works that reference sculptures by Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Robert Morris, Dan Flavin, and Daniel Buren, whose site-specific, minimalist exhibitions often foregrounded an assumed white male viewer/body, and whose work dominated PCVA’s early programming under the direction of Mary Beebe. Triple Candie’s interventions query their relevance through curatorial theatrics of approximate restaging and material undermining. For instance, Triple Candie read Richard Serra’s 1975 Unequal Elevations, composed of two 1,500-pound steel blocks of differing heights set 80 feet apart in the gallery, as a grand spatial domination. The duo topped their lighter, wooden version with a silver phallic gourd—an unfaithful yet incisive encore.

As funding sources fluctuated in the 1980s, PCVA’s programming steered toward time-based media and durational performance. In lieu of video or photographic documentation of these performances, Triple Candie salvaged ambiguous textiles in seemingly heraldic banners presented alongside stop-action animations. Processional and yet static, the banners commemorate ephemeral works by Meredith Monk, Eiko & Koma, Bill T. Jones, Spiderwoman Theater, Laurie Anderson, and more. Their distance and simultaneous intimacy unveil the farce in nostalgia and the reality of the “unknowable past.”

But perhaps the most important “act” was the unnamed section bridging the two decades in which Triple Candie makes an unapologetic curatorial appeal to “presentism,” redefining it as “critical rereading as a form of acknowledgement” (emphasis mine). By attesting to the multiple relations bound within their performative critique, Triple Candie thinks with and against the entangled archive.

Being Present: Revisiting, Somewhat Unfaithfully, Portland’s Most Experimental Art Experiment, PCVA is on view at Portland Art Museum in Portland, OR through June 14, 2020.

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