Artlandia: A cultural getaway in Portland
By Michael Upchurch | Seattle Times arts writer
At the Portland Art Museum, the Mark Rothko exhibit includes 45 works of the highly regarded 20th-century painter who spent part of his life in Portland. Cultural life is singularly concentrated in Portland. Walk just 20 blocks and you can hit most of the city’s major museums, galleries and performance venues, plus scores of restaurants and cafes.
Sure, there’s arts activity happening elsewhere in the city. But for the out-of-town visitor, especially anyone arriving by train, it’s a great feeling to exit Portland’s Union Station and know so many attractions are in strolling distance.
Portland Art Museum: “Mark Rothko” is the big-name draw here, but “John Frame: Three Fragments of a Lost Tale” is the unexpected knockout. Both exhibits are up through May 27.
The Rothko retrospective reveals that before Mark Rothko was “Mark Rothko,” he was Marcus Rothkowitz, and before he was an abstract expressionist he was a figurative painter. He came to Portland from Russia at age 10 in 1913 and spent about a decade in the city before heading for New York. In 1933, the Portland Art Museum gave him his first one-man museum show, and he had family ties to the city for most of his life (1903-1970).
“Mark Rothko” starts with a rather tame still-life from 1926 and ends with two black/gray abstract canvases from 1969 that all but spell “dead end” (Rothko killed himself the next year). In between, however, there’s an energizing evolution of visual ideas, gradually morphing from fanciful, distorted figures to ever-bolder abstractions. By 1950, he finds his signature style: huge pulsating lozenges of color that seem almost to vibrate off the canvas while pulling you into shadowy realms.
As illuminating as the Rothko exhibit is, the John Frame show is even better. Frame is a California artist who works with puppets, photography and stop-action animation. The show is theatrically spot-lit in the dim gallery. Oddball hybrid creatures made from found materials come to spooky life as a soundtrack scored by Frame plays in the background.