We see the work, but we don’t always see the workers.
The landscape. Clean houses and buildings. Farm produce and restaurant meals. Clothing and uniforms. Articles and works of art and governance and activism.
Hidden labor is the subject of “Labor of Love,” a group exhibition that runs through April 27 at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Eight artists, including three from Oregon, “seek to explore what is often hidden beneath the surface or kept out of reach: the physical, emotional, and intellectual labor that is vital to the smooth, ongoing function of countless aspects of our everyday lives. lives,” curator Alexandra Terry wrote in her overview of the show.
Terry, curator of contemporary art at the New Mexico Museum of Art, will be in Portland on March 7 for a panel discussion with some of the artists. Here are five things you need to know about “Labor of Love.”
1. The exhibition was inspired by Jay Lynn GomezThe Hockney series.
In 2022, Maryanna Ramirez, director of the Schnitzer Museum at PSU, contacted Terry with an idea for an exhibit. Ramirez had seen Gomez’s 2013-14 paintings spanning British artist David Hockney’s 1960s California Dreaming series. His “Housewife of Beverly Hills” depicts an art collector looking out from her home; Gomez’s “Housewife of Beverly Hills” replaces the wife with a maid who sweeps the floor. Hockney’s “A Bigger Splash” shows an empty outdoor swimming pool; Gomez’s “No Splash” features a pool cleaner.
Gomez’s pieces prompted Ramirez to think about the undercover job, according to Terry. For her part, Terry knew Gomez’s work. She had also recently seen a large piece Gomez did with fellow California artist Patrick Martinez called “Labor of Love,” showing a woman cleaning a building wall. After several conversations, the idea of the exhibition took off.
2. The exhibition includes many types of work.
“I felt this was a really great opportunity to see a wide range of work,” Terry said.
Pieces by University of Oregon art professor Tannaz Farsi address cultural and intellectual work. Her sculptural installation “The Names – State II” features the names of 88 Iranian women whose work in art, culture, writing and politics has often been suppressed.
California artist Alberto Lule draws on his 13 years in prison to look at prison work. Mexican artist Tania Candiani’s works focus on working in the Caribbean. Oregon artist Midori Hirose presents a piece made from plastic waste, a byproduct of the global labor that underpins our consumerism.
Other pieces represent the landscape and agricultural, domestic and restaurant work.
3. Compassion is a key part of the show’s narrative.
Noting that the title track is dedicated to Martinez’s mother, who worked as a cleaner, Terry said she found it touching in its generosity, vulnerability and gentleness.
“I really wanted to work with artists who make invisible issues visible, but who also do so with a sense of commitment and compassion for their subjects,” she said.
With that in mind, she chose artists who were approaching their work either through the experience of people close to them or their own, like Mexican-American artist Narsiso Martinez, who put himself through art school by working on a farm. “He has a real compassion for the people he worked with,” she said.
The show’s title reflects “this feeling of love and care for these people,” she said.
4. The placement of the pieces is as important as their content.
On the show’s lower level, visitors will find Narsiso Martinez’s farmers’ pieces crafted into produce boxes, along with University of Oregon art professor Charlene Liu’s mixed-media piece “China Palace,” an ode to about the restaurant her family ran in Wisconsin.
“We often don’t think about the steps that go into it, all the people who are involved in all the incredibly physical work that goes into making it possible for us to eat the food we have,” Terry said. Together, Martinez and Liu’s pieces connect agricultural workers to kitchens, restaurants and grocery stores with the people who eat the food and often build a community around it, she said.
5. You don’t need to bring any knowledge to the show beyond your experience.
Try to approach it like you’re talking to artists, Terry suggested. “What experiences are they presenting? Is there anything you can relate to – have you had experience as a domestic worker, have you worked in the service industry? Do you know someone who is incarcerated?”
Terry said part of her goal in representing many types of work was to make the show more accessible and relatable.
“I think there’s something in the show for everyone who has a concern for humanity and has a concern about how people are being treated in various systemic complexes,” she said.
If you go
What: “Labour of Love”
Where: Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University, 1855 SW Broadway, Portland.
When: 11:00-17:00 Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday, 11:00-19:00 Thursday, until April 27.
- Gallery Talk with Jay Lynn Gomez: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 20. Students from Portland State’s La Casa Latina Student Center moderated a conversation with the artist.
- Guided visit: 13:00 on Saturday, March 2 and April 6.
- Panel discussion: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7. Curator Alexandra Terry moderates a conversation with artists Tannaz Farsi, Midori Hirose and Charlene Liu.
- Storytime: 11 a.m. Saturday, March 9 and April 13. Portland artist Latoya Lovely reads stories that celebrate workers. For preschool through early elementary students with an adult.
Information: pdx.edu/museum-of-art or 503-725-8013