Many rainy Tuesdays you can find me wandering the galleries of Willamette University’s Hallie Ford Art Museum, wallowing in the art of the Pacific Northwest. These have sometimes seemed like sad little discursions since the pieces on display had a little too much in common with the view outside, having been painted by the Oregon artists some affectionately call the “muddy painters.”
Not today. Thanks to a dramatic re-envisioning of the museum’s Carl Hall Gallery, its showcase space is now telling a different story about this region – one that is bold, bright and invigorating.
Sure, if your thing is cloudy seascapes, you’ll still find some gorgeous ones here. But this new permanent exhibition, in the making since last summer, replaces the previous one, better expressing the breadth of talent, the odd beauty, and the startling range of Pacific Northwest art.
It’s a knockout.
Called “On the Edge: Pacific Northwest Art from the Permanent Collection,” the exhibition features many of the same artists that were already on view at the museum, but roughly two thirds of the pieces, most of them acquired by the museum over the past decade, have never before been seen in public.
According to curator Jonathan Bucci, the pieces also paint an even clearer picture of the region’s artistic heritage, since the newer pieces are even more exemplary of the artists when they were working at their peak.
Divided thematically into sections including Pioneers of Oregon Modernism, Mid-Century Northwest Modernism, Late Twentieth-Century Northwest Modernism, The Willamette Valley and Oregon Coast, and Contemporary Northwest Art, “On the Edge” features another first: a whole chamber devoted to work by Salem artists.
Tucked into a space at the center of the gallery, this rotating collection of Contemporary Salem Art shows that geography is one of the only common denominators among artists living and working in Salem.
Among the 12 works on display here you’ll see Robert Hess’s 1986 welded sheet bronze sculpture “Passage,” the hardest working sculpture in the museum, a jagged form with a smooth patina that is a revelation of space and shape.
You’ll also find James Mattingly’s “Stump’s View,” from 2002, an acrylic landscape that captures the Willamette Valley’s splendor in muddled greens, blues and greys. In a stroke of genius, that’s a sunny day painting.
Kay Worthington’s cheeky 2003 mixed media work “Are You My Mother?” uses odd materials such as transistors and twigs to ask that question, while James Thompson’s startling acrylic “Men’s Day” offers a quirky commentary on men’s bonding rituals, in this case, golf.
Taken as a whole, the gallery section is a destination for all those who seek to measure Salem’s artistic pulse in one afternoon. The pieces on view will rotate regularly to feature new acquisitions.
“Now there will always be a place at Hallie Ford for Salem artists to be represented,” Bucci told me.
And we will have a place to go to see them.
See you there at the public opening on March 3rd from 5-8 p.m., or maybe I’ll run into you on Tuesdays, when the museum is free and open to the public. I’ll be the one pushing one very edgy baby stroller, the one who can’t stop talking about this great new show.