Russo Lee owner Martha Lee likes to be in the middle of the hustle-bustle of gallery comings and goings, so she’s never spent much time in the office where her late boss, Laura Russo, used to hold court. Last month, with the help of artist and gallery art consultant Eva Lake, Lee turned the office into “The Office,” a monthly exhibition series featuring the work of artists who are not represented by Portland galleries. In so doing, Lee and Lake want to bring a stream of new blood into a gallery known as a bulwark of old-guard Northwest icons. The second iteration in the series is the brilliantly titled “Finish Your Collapse and Stay for Breakfast” by Michelle Ramin, a 2012 graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute’s MFA program.
In a suite of watercolor paintings on paper, all from 2017, Ramin addresses the phenomena of tourism and “ruin porn,” both of which she thought about a lot during a recent trip to Greece. In works such as Waiting on Democracy and the (again) hilariously titled Take it with the Caryatids! tourists line up to snap selfies at the Acropolis. Although the juxtaposition of ancient statuary and Classical architecture with contemporary fashions and gadgets is jarring, Ramin doesn’t overdo the contrast, either technically or thematically. Wisely, she lets the scenes speak for themselves of the tenuous lines that separate the appreciation of cultural landmarks from the exploitation of them. She also knows that as a tourist herself, she is complicit in the moral ambiguity, ergo her self-portrait, At the Stoa with my Pink Asics. An American artist from Portland, Oregon, wearing high-dollar Japanese footwear, photographing a relic of antiquity to post on Instagram, might not have the world’s smallest carbon footprint. But then, who does? Ramin leads us to, but does not bludgeon us with, the tough questions of intention, privilege, and appropriation that separate the maker of images from the taker, the proponent from the pornographer.