Happy almost New Year! Seems like a great time to look back at what was good and what was not so good in the local arts world in 2016. I didn’t get to everything, so I’m certain I missed some real gems, but here are my picks for the best I saw and heard all year long, and a few notes about the bad out there.
Shrimp & Gritts: She’s Gone at Oregon Contemporary Theatre. Eugene playwright Paul Calindrino created a sweetly sardonic reflection on contemporary love, and it was expertly performed last summer under Brian Haimbach’s direction. Bary Shaw and Rebecca Nachison were amazing in the lead roles. Best local play of the year.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Lane County is enjoying an incredible renaissance in theater, and it’s being led by OCT.
Hamlet at Cottage Theatre. Did I mention great theater is being performed around the county? Even in Cottage Grove? Under Tony Rust’s direction, Timothy Mcintosh, as Hamlet, made the indecisive prince entrancingly believable in this smart, watchable production.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at Actors Cabaret of Eugene. ACE specializes in fun, diverting musicals, and I Love You, You’re Perfect was perfectly staged in this show directed by Joe Zingo. I think I could have stayed in my seat and watched it a second time.
Quality of Life at Very Little Theatre. Storm Kennedy led a very strong cast in this searing drama of love, age, and death, directed expertly by Carol Horne Dennis.
Karla Bonoff at the Shedd. The Shedd Institute continues its mission of bringing unusually interesting talent to town — sometimes people you’ve heard of, and sometimes not. Bonoff has long been one of those under-the-radar singer songwriters known mostly to a few fans and to the better known singers (Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Wynona Judd) who performed her work. Her show here in April was gorgeous.
Eugene Onegin by Eugene Opera. As perfect a performance as I could imagine enjoying. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we have an opera company at all in a town the size of Eugene — much less such a good one.
The Eugene Biennial. After the non-profit Jacobs Gallery closed at the beginning of the year, the annual Mayor’s Art Show was left without a home, and quietly died, too. Gallerist Karin Clarke stepped up with the idea of a juried Eugene Biennial at her downtown gallery, keeping the all-comers show alive, and even expanding its reach to all the counties abutting Lane County. Good job.
Aliens, Monsters and Madmen at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. You’ve got to love it when the bad habits of your youth — comic books and Mad magazine, for example — become high art in your old age. This was one of the few arts shows in town I went to see twice, spending a long time in the gallery during each visit.
Stephen Hough with Eugene Symphony. The concert pianist’s performance of Beethoven’s third piano concerto was magnificent. Hough, recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, redeemed the whole idea of piano concertos with his playing. To add to the fun, we got to hear the orchestra play work by several high school students.
The Eugene Review. Dark clouds sometimes have silver linings, and The Register-Guard’s steady firing of arts and entertainment writers finally produced a local arts website that’s got solid talent behind it, including Randi Bjornstad, Serena Markstrom and Suzi Steffen. The Eugene Review, which kicked off late in the year after Bjornstad got the axe, is a lot newsier and has a greater range of voices than Eugene Art Talk.
Out of town
The Winter’s Tale and Hamlet and Yeomen of the Guard at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. OK, I could practically have listed every one of the eleven plays OSF did this past year. But Winter’s Tale was beautiful, Hamlet was crazy with heavy metal rock and roll, and Yeomen of the Guard let me — and perhaps fifty other audience members — wander around stage right during the show.
Russell Childers at Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Childers’ haunting, evocative sculpture had never been the subject of a retrospective. The Hallie Ford, which is the best museum of Oregon art, stepped up this past year and remedied that problem with an excellent show of work by the late artist, who was institutionalized for much of his life.
Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy at Portland Art Museum. A well thought out and compelling show, put together by the museum, of work by Native American photographers reacting to Edward Curtis.
Art censorship at the UO. No, they didn’t go after figure drawing this year. The project I have in mind is the blackface appearance by UO law professor Nancy Shurtz at a private Halloween party in her own house. Not art you say? Come on. She was dressed in costume, portraying a current book, Damon Tweedy’s memoir, “Black Man in a White Coat,” about discrimination people of color face in the medical profession. Sounds like art to me. For this, her job is threatened and she is widely vilified as a clueless racist. Bad taste, maybe. Clueless, perhaps. But no one has disputed Shurtz’ claim that she did it to provoke a discussion of racism in the professions. The university administration’s inept handling has drawn national publicity.
R-G housecleaning. Randi Bjornstad, a former colleague and current friend, was dismissed by her bosses on Chad Drive for her work as a union president in behalf of former entertainment writer Serena Markstrom, who was also fired by the paper. See a trend here?
The Jacobs Gallery. It’s been almost a year since the private non-profit Jacobs closed, its budget ground down by cuts in city financial support. The city bobbled the whole thing even more with a disastrous public meeting that shed little or no light on what the future might bring. Today, almost a year after the gallery went under, a sign over the gallery’s former front door still says “Jacobs Gallery,” and the defunct gallery’s hours are still posted on a sign outside the Hult Center. In the real world this kind of thing might indicate ambivalence. When is the city ever going to make up its mind about support of the visual arts?
People we’ll miss:
There were too many deaths in the arts world here locally in 2016, just as there were around the country. Here are some of the locals whose deaths touched me.
Mark Clarke. One of the best painters in the state, and one of the sweetest people you could ever know. Clarke was the father of gallerist Karin Clarke and husband of painter Margaret Coe.
Richard Haugland. A deep-pocket patron of the arts, he funded — among many other things — Eugene Ballet’s brand-new production of “The Snow Queen,” which is to debut in 2017.
Rick Bartow. An amazing artist with an amazing personal story, Bartow died this past spring just a year after the Schnitzer Museum mounted a big exhibition of his work.
John Evans. The former executive director (though he had other titles) of the Oregon Bach Festival, which he ran from 2007 until his resignation in 2014, the former BBC producer could be prickly at times, but attracted a lot of donor money to OBF.
Don Hunter. A geek’s geek, Hunter — an avid collector of sounds — founded the University of Oregon’s audio-visual department in 1947 and ran it for 30 more years. “I especially loved sounds that were disappearing,” he once told me.