Pictures at an Exhibition: A Musician’s Search for the Sound of Identity

This post contributed by Darrell Grant.

When I received the invitation from PDX Jazz and the Portland Art Museum to present a concert in honor of International Jazz Day, I knew immediately that I wanted to tie the performance closely to the Constructing Identity exhibit. This expansive exhibition is a powerful lens through which to view over a century of African-American formation, exploration, and reinvention of identity—much of it in the face of dehumanizing racism and oppression. I was particularly interested to explore the ways that the work and narratives of the exhibit artists intersected with those of 20th century jazz artists—to find commonalities between the musical and the visual.

It was daunting trying to choose from among the bounty of historic painting, sculpture, printmaking, tapestry, and collage in the exhibit, not to mention the hundreds of notable jazz composers I might pair them with. However, over the course of several visits to the exhibit, a program began to take shape. I started with pieces that spoke to me personally.  There were several whose subject matter, imagery, symbolism, or stylistic approach “struck a chord.” Then I went through the exhibit and read all the captions accompanying the works. As I began to settle on a subset of artists to explore, I took to the Internet to research their histories and related work.

I am a layman when it comes to art history. Perhaps for that reason I thoroughly enjoyed this process of discovery around both the iconic artists and contemporary practitioners. I found the range of cultural backgrounds and influences fascinating. I was interested in the differences in formal training and the extensive travel that many of them undertook that enriched their educations and their practices. I have read many similar things in the biographies of jazz artists. Not surprisingly, many of the visual artists were products of major urban art scenes in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, cities that were also centers of jazz musical innovation. I was intrigued to read about the influence of artist collectives and informal groups or “schools” on the development of individual artists’ practices. These too, had parallels in jazz, including the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago and the Black Artists Group (BAG) in St. Louis. It was also interesting to note how many of these artists reacted to, and participated in historic cultural moments such as The Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement in similar ways to their jazz counterparts.

Once I selected my composers, then I got to pursue the most enjoyable part of the process: identifying jazz compositions that might resonate with specific visual art. In this process I was aided by the fact that music and visual art share a wide swath of descriptive language. These range from stylistic categorizations like impressionism and abstraction, to descriptions of mood like “bright” and “dark.” In fact, the very idea of color as a musical characteristic reflects our penchant for describing music in visual terms. Similarly, we talk about the “balance” of a composition or a painting, the “contour” of a drawn or melodic line. In describing visual art we also hear references to elements of jazz like improvisation and rhythm, as well as vernacular terms like “soulful, “bluesy, and “jazzy” as a way of getting closer to the essence of the work.  I tried to use this common language as a way of listening and seeing, in order to discover what the music and the art might have in common.

The musical selections in the “Sound of Identity” range from classics of the jazz repertoire to contemporary works. Likewise, the composers include icons like Ellington, Monk, and Mary Lou Williams, to contemporary jazz artists like Terence Blanchard and Marcus Shelby. Like the exhibit’s visual artists, their works express multi-faceted identities and artistic visions that are shaped by the many “hats” they wear—as performers, composers, teachers, mentors, leaders, activists, learners, and collaborators. They come from a range of ethnic, cultural, and class backgrounds, and create from a myriad of influences, personal narratives, and artistic points of view. Some deal in abstract subject matter and seek to explode established forms. Some take programmatic approaches and create aural “landscapes” of sound. Others highlight the vernacular, or even the overtly political in their work. What is universal is their quest to be seen as individuals, to have their unique stories and perspectives represented, and to make space within the culture for a larger range of experiences, ideas, and expressions. One of the historic challenges of African-American artists is that of straddling the line between high art and vernacular/popular culture. Historically we have striven to expand the perception of our work idiom to embrace both.

At the core of Constructing Identity is the assertion that “African-American art is American art.” The artistic voices of our community are, and always have been, intrinsic to the construction of American identity. The exhibit also encourages viewers to move past simplified racial constructs of “black” and “white” to see these artists for their singular contributions within the framework of American culture. Studying the exhibit and creating this concert gave me a deeper appreciation for the diversity of African-American narratives and the myriad cultural and personal identities that are so often overlooked in discussions around race. This “Sound of Identity” concert program is an attempt to connect to the cultural expressions and experiences that inspired generations of visual artists and musicians, as well as to highlight the quest for individual identity that we all pursue within the larger communities to which we belong.

The post Pictures at an Exhibition: A Musician’s Search for the Sound of Identity appeared first on Portland Art Museum.

Portland Art Museum

Pictures at an Exhibition: A Musician’s Search for the Sound of Identity

This post contributed by Darrell Grant.

When I received the invitation from PDX Jazz and the Portland Art Museum to present a concert in honor of International Jazz Day, I knew immediately that I wanted to tie the performance closely to the Constructing Identity exhibit. This expansive exhibition is a powerful lens through which to view over a century of African-American formation, exploration, and reinvention of identity—much of it in the face of dehumanizing racism and oppression. I was particularly interested to explore the ways that the work and narratives of the exhibit artists intersected with those of 20th century jazz artists—to find commonalities between the musical and the visual.

It was daunting trying to choose from among the bounty of historic painting, sculpture, printmaking, tapestry, and collage in the exhibit, not to mention the hundreds of notable jazz composers I might pair them with. However, over the course of several visits to the exhibit, a program began to take shape. I started with pieces that spoke to me personally.  There were several whose subject matter, imagery, symbolism, or stylistic approach “struck a chord.” Then I went through the exhibit and read all the captions accompanying the works. As I began to settle on a subset of artists to explore, I took to the Internet to research their histories and related work.

I am a layman when it comes to art history. Perhaps for that reason I thoroughly enjoyed this process of discovery around both the iconic artists and contemporary practitioners. I found the range of cultural backgrounds and influences fascinating. I was interested in the differences in formal training and the extensive travel that many of them undertook that enriched their educations and their practices. I have read many similar things in the biographies of jazz artists. Not surprisingly, many of the visual artists were products of major urban art scenes in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, cities that were also centers of jazz musical innovation. I was intrigued to read about the influence of artist collectives and informal groups or “schools” on the development of individual artists’ practices. These too, had parallels in jazz, including the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago and the Black Artists Group (BAG) in St. Louis. It was also interesting to note how many of these artists reacted to, and participated in historic cultural moments such as The Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement in similar ways to their jazz counterparts.

Once I selected my composers, then I got to pursue the most enjoyable part of the process: identifying jazz compositions that might resonate with specific visual art. In this process I was aided by the fact that music and visual art share a wide swath of descriptive language. These range from stylistic categorizations like impressionism and abstraction, to descriptions of mood like “bright” and “dark.” In fact, the very idea of color as a musical characteristic reflects our penchant for describing music in visual terms. Similarly, we talk about the “balance” of a composition or a painting, the “contour” of a drawn or melodic line. In describing visual art we also hear references to elements of jazz like improvisation and rhythm, as well as vernacular terms like “soulful, “bluesy, and “jazzy” as a way of getting closer to the essence of the work.  I tried to use this common language as a way of listening and seeing, in order to discover what the music and the art might have in common.

The musical selections in the “Sound of Identity” range from classics of the jazz repertoire to contemporary works. Likewise, the composers include icons like Ellington, Monk, and Mary Lou Williams, to contemporary jazz artists like Terence Blanchard and Marcus Shelby. Like the exhibit’s visual artists, their works express multi-faceted identities and artistic visions that are shaped by the many “hats” they wear—as performers, composers, teachers, mentors, leaders, activists, learners, and collaborators. They come from a range of ethnic, cultural, and class backgrounds, and create from a myriad of influences, personal narratives, and artistic points of view. Some deal in abstract subject matter and seek to explode established forms. Some take programmatic approaches and create aural “landscapes” of sound. Others highlight the vernacular, or even the overtly political in their work. What is universal is their quest to be seen as individuals, to have their unique stories and perspectives represented, and to make space within the culture for a larger range of experiences, ideas, and expressions. One of the historic challenges of African-American artists is that of straddling the line between high art and vernacular/popular culture. Historically we have striven to expand the perception of our work idiom to embrace both.

At the core of Constructing Identity is the assertion that “African-American art is American art.” The artistic voices of our community are, and always have been, intrinsic to the construction of American identity. The exhibit also encourages viewers to move past simplified racial constructs of “black” and “white” to see these artists for their singular contributions within the framework of American culture. Studying the exhibit and creating this concert gave me a deeper appreciation for the diversity of African-American narratives and the myriad cultural and personal identities that are so often overlooked in discussions around race. This “Sound of Identity” concert program is an attempt to connect to the cultural expressions and experiences that inspired generations of visual artists and musicians, as well as to highlight the quest for individual identity that we all pursue within the larger communities to which we belong.

The post Pictures at an Exhibition: A Musician’s Search for the Sound of Identity appeared first on Portland Art Museum.

Portland Art Museum

Five Buddhas Exhibition Garners International Press

Five Buddhas: A Korean Icon’s Journey through Time, the Korean temple painting that will be repatriated after its exhibition at the Museum this fall, has earned attention from international and online media including the Korean YonHap News Agency, Korea TimesReformatorisch Dagblad (The Netherlands), Hyperallergic, and Exploregram. Read the full announcement below.

Five Buddhas: A Korean Icon’s Journey through Time
Portland Art Museum announces exhibition and repatriation of Korean Buddhist painting

September 3–December 4, 2016

The Portland Art Museum is pleased to announce an exhibition, symposium, and repatriation of a sacred Korean icon. Five Buddhas: A Korean Icon’s Journey through Time tells the story of a stolen painting—its discovery, restoration, travel to Oregon, and return to the Korean people.

Oregonian Robert Mattielli lived in Seoul for three decades, during which time he often visited the cluster of antique shops in Mary’s Alley (Anguk-dong). He purchased a tattered and folded Five Buddhas painting in the early 1970s, a time when many temples were refurbishing their worship halls, and Buddhist paintings often appeared on the market. The painting was conserved by a well-known Korean restorer and framed as it is seen today. When Mattielli and his wife, Sandra, moved back to Oregon in 1985, the Five Buddhas traveled with them.

In 2014, the Mattiellis approached the Museum about donating the Five Buddhas—just in time for the painting to be examined by a team of visiting scholars from the Korean National Research Institute for Cultural Heritage (NRICH). Several months later, NRICH reported their discovery that the Five Buddhas painting, dating to 1725, was originally part of a suite of paintings that adorned a small chapel at Songgwangsa, a famous Son (Japanese, Zen) monastery located in the mountains in the southwestern part of Korea. The painting disappeared sometime in the early 1970s. When informed of news, the Mattiellis immediately offered to repatriate the painting to Korea.

Recognizing the unique opportunity to display the painting and educate visitors about issues surrounding ownership and repatriation of stolen and sacred works of art, the Museum offered to present Five Buddhas as a special exhibition and to present a corresponding symposium that will take place on December 3, 2016. Dr. Robert Buswell, who is widely recognized as the premier scholar of Korean Buddhism of his generation, will speak on “Songgwangsa and its Significance in the Korean Buddhist Tradition.” Professor Buswell spent five years meditating at Songgwangsa before beginning his academic career, and his first book examined Zen practice at the monastery. Today he holds the Irving and Jean Stone Endowed Chair in Humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he is also distinguished professor of Buddhist Studies and director of the Center for Buddhist Studies. Professor Maya Stiller of the University of Kansas will focus on the ritual context of the Five Buddhas in her talk on “Repentance for the Living and the Dead: The Avataṃsaka Compound at Songgwangsa.”

“The Portland Art Museum is honored to help facilitate the return of this important work of art to Korea,” remarked Brian Ferriso, Portland Art Museum Executive Director.  “We are grateful for the guidance and support we have received from the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration for helping us mount an important exhibition about Five Buddhas.  Special recognition must also be given to Sandra and Robert Mattielli for their ongoing generosity. Their gifts to the Museum will continue to benefit our community for generations as they help us present the beautiful art of Korea.”

The Museum is grateful for the Korean Cultural Heritage Association for sponsoring this project, and to the Mildred Schnitzer Memorial Lecture Fund for co-sponsoring the symposium.

Commitment to Repatriation

The Portland Art Museum is a proactive partner in repatriation claims and research.  Having recently completely cataloged and reported the contents of the Native American art collection, the Museum returned 18 Crow medicine bundles under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 2015. It is an honor for the institution to facilitate the return of the Five Buddhas to Songgwangsa.

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Portland Art Museum