With the new museum wing and a gallery/artist bloom,
Portland has a body similar to an adult's but lacks many of
the intelligent (but boring) restraints. That's a good thing,
though it's frustrating having to constantly give people the
The good thing is I now get to have post-grad discussions
with someone other than Bruce Guenther or Jacqueline Ehlis.
Now there are lots of very savvy people and even a few that
approach those two ... if you know where to look.
As always, there are still idiots everywhere, but
that's a constant in human history regardless of location.
It's time for a wish list:
1) Schools: PSU needs to get serious about
the visual arts with a curatorial studies program as well as
an exhibition program with a professional curator. The new art
library just down the street at the museum may actually help
them facilitate the curatorial studies. Maybe PSU's MFA program
isn't enough and PNCA could create a very selective program.
Of course that takes $$$ although one capable donor did corner
me about what it would take last year.
2) A collective: Portland's many very good
artists need to actively court galleries in other cities and,
if they do not find a suitable gallery in town, band together
to create a strong collective like SOIL in Seattle (it's the
one place I always try to check out to sense Seattle's pulse).
Portland has an infinitely more active and stronger scene than
Seattle but one can always run into the serious die-hard artists
at SOIL. There isn't a place like that in Portland. Please make
one (and happy 10th anniversary to SOIL).
|Work By Matthew Picton, recently acquired by the DeYoung
Museum in San Francisco, shown first in Portland.
3) Press: The Oregonian cannot continue to
ignore or hold out-of-state accolades against Oregon artists
like Matthew Picton, Amanda Wojick, David Eckard, Bruce Conkle,
Ellen George, Laura Fritz, Jacqueline Ehlis, Sean Healy, Brendan
Clenaghen, TJ Norris and M.K. Guth all of whom are showing
outside the state, often to rave reviews. Look, if the O wants
to play the backwards-looking curmudgeon they can, but good
luck defending it.
The "we like to fetish our remoteness" shtick only
rings true for the old Portland crowd and maybe suburban hausfraus
(the Oregonian's core readership?). Portland has grown beyond
that self-inflicted inconsequentiality. Now it's better to discuss
what level of ambition we wish to aspire to.
Let's remember that all artists are generally taken
for granted in their home towns.
Also, the Willamette Week and the Mercury need more
features, not just short reviews. I could harp on what the O,
WWeek and (to a lesser degree) the Mercury write in terms of
content. But I already co-created a near daily publication,
PORT, to address
that issue in part.
Let's just say all have gotten better and it would
be nice to see more improvement ... the best coverage usually
comes from Joseph Gallivan at the Portland Tribune, but all
of the traditionally printed papers have moments in the sun
and the gutter. I'm never going to be happy with it, I'm a critic
fer chrissake (I generally hate what I write, too). Basically,
if the article stays on topic without odd digressions that mean
nothing (like criticizing a warehouse for being a warehouse)
and actually looks at the art without comparisons to some painting
elephant at the zoo ... then I'm appeased (not that that matters).
All it takes is a little bit of perceptive and truly
critical writing and it does happen quite frequently. That is
better than most places. Nobody can expect the New York Times
from a generalist publication in Oregon. Yet they do ... and
good for them. Personally, I don't find a generalist paper like
the NYT too challenging a read. It's too accessible to be that
insightful; that's their role.
|The Armory and The Henry in the Pearl District during
a lavender-colored dusk.
4) Galleries: Portland's galleries are numerous
and, to be simple, they should sign new artists and take chances
(maybe cycle the deadwood into a four-year rotation).
We all know there are young artists in the city
who are better than some of those currently being repped. I'd
also like to see them take a risk or two and shock their viewers
with difficult-to-assimilate work. Basically, it's good to take
the safety belts off for at least one or two shows a year (like
those big-selling months of July and January!).
Even Jane Beebe of PDX Gallery has often remarked
that her favorite shows were in the Window Gallery, which often
displayed artists she did not rep. It's true the old Window
Gallery was the single most consistently strong/challenging
contemporary art venue in the state for at least the last three
Now that many galleries are taking part in art fairs,
I think others are seeing the kind of quality Portland has taken
for granted ... and for cheap. The prices Portland artists get
have to be addressed this year. Right now the only youngish
artists that go for good prices are the three musketeers of
the 1999 Oregon Biennial apocalypse: Jacqueline Ehlis, Sean
Healy and Brendan Clenaghen.
Also, let's seriously talk about renaming a section
of NW Ninth "Gallery Row" now that 10+ galleries can be found
either on or right off of it.
5) Institutions: The Portland Art Museum
has an exciting roster of shows funded by the Meigs Endowment,
starting with Sophie Calle and Roxy Paine. But they need to
acquire some major things to fill out the collection: