Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rapids and Pools

Emily's note about Robert McCauley's "big f-u to 19th century’s more destructive values" at Hallie Ford caught my attention. McCauley's show wasn't on the CT radar, and I appreciated the alert and the review.

Playing with conventions of European genre painting of the 18th and 19th centuries is something I find interesting.

In or affixed to the paintings were lots of cameras and containers, to me signifying the ways we try to capture and immobilize the complex stream of existence. Ways we literally try to contain time - indeed, sometimes to kill time or living creatures. These symbols ran counterpoint to all the water, stream, and falls imagery in the paintings.

Since Capital Taps has a thing for Dutch still life painting, the set of paintings that most struck me were the "Mixed Metaphor" series. Here's Mixed Metaphor XIII. I read the painting as a literal enactment of the words "still life." These are living creatures, immobilized. I did not read them as the product of taxidermy! (Though, of course, the animals are also a painting - but that's a little too meta...)

The animals also cracked me up a little, and while I'm not sure McCauley intended for them to be humorous, they amused me, and I enjoyed the little bit of whimsy amidst the "f-u" seriousness.

Emily didn't remark that upstairs is Heidi Schwegler's "Slipping Underwater," a show that also invokes water and looming immobility.

Schwegler's art doesn't grab me. Or maybe I should say I didn't get it. Your mileage may vary. Here are a couple of bits by fans. Catherine Chandler approaches Schwegler from her own work as a metalsmith. Jeff Jahn writes extensively about Portland artists. The pieces are finely crafted, but they left me pretty empty.

Downtstairs, because water was on my mind, Constance Fowler's painting of the Salem Waterworks attracted my attention. It's labeled "south Commercial," and the slope of the hill confused me. I think the image is reversed, because when you are looking uphill from Trade and Commercial, Boise Cascade site is on the right, and the site of the waterworks (the Fire Station site) is on the left. Two photos that show a similar view are here and here. The second one, in particular, shows the slope and angle that I expect to see in the unreversed painting.

Salem drinking water came from the Willamette until 1938, when Salem started drawing water from the North Santiam. This Willamette water was spiked with sewage, both from local sources and from upstream sources. It's not difficult to imagine how the Santiam water might be regarded as "pure" and "sweet."

Here's a view of the pumping station from 1895. I believe it's taken from the approximate site of the paper mill, looking to the east. It's hard for me to make out the course of the waterway, but Pringle Creek (then also called Mill Creek) swoops north just beyond the waterworks, and the bend remains today underneath Liberty street.

Here's a detail of the
Pumping Station circa 1900
. It shows the actual slope of the hill as much less steep than in the Fowler painting. The house or office just behind the pump house is visible in both photos.

It's not surprising that the Salem Brewery was one block north of the water works. Brewers needed lots of water, and once the water had been transformed into beer, the boil and fermentation had rendered it much safer to drink than water from the taps.

The works was demolished in 1964, and the Civic Center built just a few years later as part of Salem's first "urban renewal" project.

Now, in 2009, we are demolishing a similar industrial site, the Boise Cascade site, for another attempt at renewing the urban fabric. What will history's verdict be?

City Hall and the library are designed in a style that hasn't aged well - aesthetically, the Civic Center is not very pleasing, and structurally it is seismically unstable. I understand that a new City Hall will need to be built. It's sad that a civic monument like that should only have a 40 or 50 year lifespan. The Civic Center site, too, has a limited range of uses, and it is desolate outside of business hours.

Hopefully the Boise redevelopment will contain a wide enough range of uses that it will be appropriately lively around the clock, and will be designed and built in a way that ages better than the Civic Center site. Nearly everyone wishes the old City Hall remained instead of the parking lot we have today.


  1. Cool! I'm all about people checking out Hallie Ford, preferably on Tuesdays, when it's free. If there is a revolution I want to start -- and really, there aren't that many -- it is the go- to-see-art-during-your-lunch-break revolution. I didn't get upstairs, lack of time.

    Are you into Vermeer? I was mildly obsessed with the Procuress after seeing it in Mississippi, and then again in Dresden.

  2. I love Hallie Ford! It serves up perfect portions and plates them nicely - I can take it all in, and rarely want more. Though I do wish they rotated the selections from the permanent collection a bit more often, spent less time on antiquity and Europe, and spent more time on regional artists. You know, focused on being a strong local museum rather than a weak comprehensive one - though I suppose they have an educational mission for students, and the art history students need to see Greek vase painting...

    I don't know the Procuress - nor most of the paintings from the 1650s. It's so big! Must dwarf the later ones. My knowledge tracks with popular taste for the smaller paintings of the 1660s and 70s.

    I am also fond of the story of Han van Meegeren, the forger, however!