Altered states and ‘Magnificent Obsessions’

When you walk into “Magnificent Obsessions” at PDXContemporary Art (604 N.W. 12th Ave.) by Lisa Lockhart, you feellike you are walking into a life. Old boxes and piles of artifactsindicate that there is some kind of eccentric system at work, asensitive documentation of the past.

Of course you are in a gallery, not a life, but I couldn’t helpwondering if the installation was all complete. Something about itseemed not done, in midstream, not dissimilar to how a life islived.

Installation could be wrong term here, as it implies a whole.The small gallery space is actually filled with individual works asmost exhibitions are. All of these works do share the same patinaand some vague, distant age. They are stacked together, often oneright on top of another, asking to be sorted through.

This kind of placement suggests that we are walking intothe studio of the artist and in a way we are. The artist hauled outher work from her schoolhouse studio in Illinois and drove acrossthe country to install this show. The relaxed nature of theexhibition invites you to participate and investigate.

What Lockhart does is interpret the lives of many through thedocuments and objects she finds. One long table holds nothing butstacks of cigar boxes stashed with pictures, memoirs and odd bits,some shredded and some not. A glass bowl holds a collection ofrusty hammer heads. Old tins are collaged over and assembledtogether. Some objects are left alone. Some are dramaticallyaltered, but in a way which still respects their originalintegrity.

Several figures in art history play their part in this work butnone as much as Joseph Cornell, who also catalogued and organizedold objects while adding his own specific nostalgic romance.Cornell has unfortunately been done to death, and it can be hard tolook at anything old in a bottle or a box and not think of him.However, one accomplishment of Lisa Lockhart is that Cornell’sinfluence is not glaringly obvious. For the most part I didn’t, andwhen I did it was in giving Lockhart a relation, but no more.

My favorite pieces are the large panels leaning againstthe walls of the gallery, collages of paper only. Some are madewith letters and various anonymous correspondences, some are madewith magazines and headlines, some are pure photomontage, all arefantastic. Taken as a whole or examined close up, bit by bit, theycould provide endless entertainment. If you look from a distance(as the installation view provides) you can almost imagine one ofthose complex patchwork compositions of Gustav Klimt, golden tonesand all.

And if you feel you are overwhelmed in the details (which aremany), you can give way to the general sepia-charged atmosphere:historical, sentimental, quizzical, hushed. You can’t help but wantto visit her studio and see the immense resources she collectedover time, in their altered or natural states.