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Sunday 06.12.05

« D.I.Y. Saturday | Main | New Work From Brad Adkins »

Landmark at PICA

Richard Klein's Cocktail

Last Night's landmark event for PICA's 10th birthday is certainly the best of the many warehouse shows up in Portland right now. With a gala event on Friday night and a general opening Saturday night it does say one thing about PICA. They have been important for the last 10 years despite the rootlessness they have experienced since January 2004 when visual arts programming lost its curator and programming seemed to be run by the staff.

Now they make a bid to continue that tradition despite some recent and very serious image tarnishing that cannot be swept under the TBA rug. There remains a huge question looming over their real commitment to visual art exhibitions, which is the one thing Portland absolutely needs. Instead of stepping up to bat they chose a performance festival over art exhibitions and closed their space. Nobody will let them forget it.

The money excuse doesn't work since the Portland Art Museum raised nearly $40,000,000 at the same time. It says something about development priorities and a local PR problem that no amount of sass from PICA staff has counteracted. They simply were not where the action was (there is money not affiliated with PICA or the museum that is just waiting for something serious and Kunsthalle).

Basically when Portland zigged one way; PICA zagged to what they were most comfortable with, performance. The itinerant warehouse of Landmark is a symbol of that black eye but they wore that shiner well last night! Obligatory gripes aside, let's raise a toast! We should also thank Stuart Horodner whose vision was not entirely appreciated at the time but now in retrospect seems to have given this landmark show most of its sizzle. Yet, the sizzle of the increasingly crazed local scene has at times overpowered PICA's auslander (but noble) focus.

Landmark is an art party as a 10 year PICA programming recap, featuring work by Dana Schutz, William Pope.L, Din Q. Le , Alain Bublex, Tony Tasset and Xu Bing. I saw all of these but the Le show in the last 6 years and it was a trip down memory lane.

In fact, I had a hilarious conversation about Foghat, Tom Petty, a cooly loach named Spazz, Emil Nolde and fried string cheese with Schutz as she was making the monoprint on display here. She's very important, not because of Saatchi or Vanity Faire, but because she addresses the zombie like cannibalism of the moment, which although blessed with a hot market does little to justify itself in strength of concept and ideas. Lest we forget they called it irrational exuberance in the late 90's before the dot.com bubble burst. Schutz's work epitomizes the problem without being sullied by it, she will last. (I mean this as a compliment) she is the cockroach of hot young painters. Thank Stuart Horodner for bringing Schutz during her apotheosis for his last show.

Schutz's monoprint, an untitled study for the painting "the operation" was produced in PDX at Mahaffey Fine Art and is pretty loose compared to the finished painting which I saw in New York recently.

Other standouts were Richard Klein's "Cocktail", Tony Tasset's "Spew", Malia Jensen's "Bug" and Mowry Baden's "Now Iguana." Baden's work became invisible as the sun went down and lacked lighting though.
Erika Blumenfeld's September Moon (right)

My favorite piece was by Erika Blumenfeld called "September Moon." In fact her show at PICA's old space was their strongest and was the first art review I penned (before that it was all museum essays and art history).

The long white walls by hot Portland architect Brad Cloepfil were big but kinda uninspired (his new PDX gallery design should be a better project). As backdrops they didn't focus space very well but made for a decent maze.

The read of this space made it so no work except maybe Jensen's "Bug" seemed well sited. It was a collection of orphans, as if it weren't for momma PICA they would have all been on the streets. But the fact is the artists made PICA and I'm glad to see them enlisting locals like Nan Curtis, Paul Green, Paige Saez, David Eckard and Bonnie Paisley in the project.

Yes it was a successful ten years with some mistakes to learn from, but Portland is growing up incredibly fast and one warehouse show a year does not cut it. At least PICA has an eye for quality that poorly planned upstarts like Disjecta and the Modern Zoo do not and that is one thing that can't be learned.

Happy Birthday PICA may you navigate these waters successfully because Portland has a job for you to do. Either stick to the performance based TBA festival and or get a dedicated exhibition space. (cool warehouse space works). If you don't others will. In fact, some of the least qualified, most poorly planned amateurs in Portland are getting attention caused by the slack that isn't being taken up. When/if they fail can Portland really take another art institutional heartache? The Museum is doing fantastically because of consistency and their contemporary wing should fill the bigger slower institutional hole. PICA can be nimble but it shouldn't try to be an adult acting like the teen it once was, it should get a space of its own.

Overall, I think small and midsize arts organizations can do only one thing well or they die (Conworks in Seattle has similar ambiguous future). One option, PICA could grow from a medium to medium large size and do both visual art and performance or else they should let a specialist handle visual arts. Look, this isn't the run of the mill PICA bashing designed to get PICA's standard Masada complex answers. Lets just say no good deed goes unpunished and PICA's done a lot of good. Portland simply wants more, not more of the same inconsistency and the funding is there if the leadership appears. PICA's next Programming Director will have to answer these questions and then some.

The organization currently seems rootless with a lame duck programming director (Edmunds) and the current status quo simply looks bad by relying on connections non-PICA staff have to create programming. PICA needs to reassert a strong voice with a strong programming director to bring it out of its current doldrums with a mixed use corporate lobby space for exhibitions and lack of curatorial voice. The only thing worse than PICA with no Kristy Edmunds is a PICA without a similarly strong programming director.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on June 12, 2005 at 15:58 | Comments (2)


I don't agree with your vague statements that there is money just waiting for the right leadership. Just where was this "action" of which you write? Your reference to the millions PAM has raised makes it seem like it was effortless. While I'm not privy to the specifics, I doubt that's the case. Could it be that the fundraising efforts of the museum have made it more difficult for other organizations to tap the same pockets? Portland is still relatively small (and please don't regurgitate the same statistical information) and notoriously thrifty.

Also, your consistent Disjecta bashing is starting to read as bitter and personal - not genuinely critical. While you could argue that your comment about the "least qualified, most poorly planned amateurs" was not directed at Bryan Suereth et al., your track record speaks otherwise. If it has been established that PICA cannot (or has chosen not to) continue its visual arts programming in the manner it has in the past, perhaps a new model like the Portland Art Center or Disjecta can help fill the void. While neither of these two new non-profits are perfect or an ideal panacea to the contemporary art ennui that grips Portland, they are motivated organizations with the potential to make things happen.

I support PORT and feel that it could be a valuable resource to the area arts community but it should be wary of the pitfalls of blogs - self-referential comments, vague statements, and unedited ramblings. What had the potential to be a critical write-up of an engaging, if somewhat inconsistent, exhibition turned out to be a slipshod essay about what PICA could've and should've done. I'm not arguing that the author is ill informed on these points, only that this was an unfocused attempt to attack too many issues without engaging any one fully.

Posted by: MB [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 15, 2005 09:15 AM

MB, thank you for your comment but you must understand that everyone in the art world traffics in proprietary info and in some cases a hint is all you get. That said, I'm feeling generous today (do you really want to know how the sausage is made?)

Also, I'm not going to reply to every comment like this because it gets tedious but I can understand how tantalizing that sort of innuendo can be especially to people without experience with the in and outs. Facts help though and as a primer to the subject I suggest everyone curious should read this old article in the WWEEK: http://www.wweek/html/urbanpulse062399.html and note that both the museum and PICA met or exceeded their fundraising goals at that time. A new paradigm is in place here and Portland is still underdeveloped in terms of arts institutions. For example, Portland State University doesn't even have a curator (despite being the largest university and only MFA program in the city). Reed, PNCA, Marlyhurst, Louis & Clark and the PCC's have all stepped up.

Also note, this is criticism, all organizations have to take it and take it seriously. Being critical isn't unprofessional, it is a way to remain on target and above the boards. Portland is young in some ways and it needs to get used to this. It has already changed dramatically. Now the Portland art world should expect scrutiny and no amount of talk or spin can replace; planning, execution and follow-through. All art organizations that fundraise need to be accountable, with an informed board of directors who understand their governance duties.

Here are my answers:

1) I have a small fractional slice of first hand experience fundraising for the museum and privately others ask me if I need support for my own projects. Let me be clear about this, in no way did I infer that fundraising is easy (that is your interpretation, some other people seem to think it is, not I). The real key is sustained effort with quality, not just sporadic parties (which is more of a club owner trajectory). In fact, the reason the museum is so successful is their consistent planning, execution and follow-through. All Portland non-profits can learn their lesson, no short cuts, plan with solid business sense, no double talk, deliver what you promise and no excuses. I didn't mention the Portland Art Center in my post probably because they are doing things the right way and I like their incremental approach. They absolutely understand they have to prove themselves and we shall see how their programming stacks up.

To give you a sense of scale for the Museum's fundraising, in the last ten years they have raised $125,000,000 to complete the museum’s master plan (so much for notoriously thrifty). Many Portlanders are simply blind to the facts and prefer to rely on anecdotal info which amounts to grousing about things they have no first hand experience with, haven't tested or researched beyond hearsay. Portland is in that magic time for cities between 2 and 3 million metro population when they are still small enough to be innovative and grass roots but big enough to make grander plans. Some of this capacity has to be developed but that is why any serious organization has development staff.

If I'm vague about donors it is my prerogative and art world info is largely proprietary. It isn't my job to point out those who have the means but refuse to engage the troubled, would be and or too generalist organizations in town. It is important to point out that they exist though, remember a huge influx of newcomers (including well to do empty nesters) continue to move here. Consider that people from elsewhere (like myself) are used to more developed institutions and expect a similar level of competence. Many of these newcomers aren’t in any hurry to support any cause and are simply waiting and watching, they move at their own pace. Myself, I am a PICA supporter and if every one of similar means in the art scene supported at a similar level they could buy a building or at least have a better exhibition space. They have made no such grand plans and therefore are not in on that kind of fundraising action.

2) The point is that PICA for a variety of reasons simply was not in play for even a fraction of those $$$'s the museum raised, mostly because of PICA's priorities and various demons. I doubt they would dispute this, it was their choice. Also PICA isn't some rinky dink operation and now has an operating budget over 1 million. They kicked off a successful 4 million dollar campaign in 1999.

Also note that the museum has raised the 125,000,000 already and now that they are done it should give other organizations at shot at the pool, greatly increasing the fundraising capacity for other non-profit arts organizations. That said professional consistency is rewarded.

3) Don't confuse criticism with bitterness (besides what for?), those are your words. I simply don't do it and haven't the time. My history speaks for itself; I am a generous but very critical personality. I care too. Besides too much is going so well and my concern is placed outside my immediate sphere. When taking a critical position, I simply express concern and challenge those positions I'm concerned about. Get used to it.

4) Amateur is not a bad thing except when an organization attempts to become "professional" yet continues to operate in very amateur (if not outright counterproductive) ways. I sense the Oregonian, WWEEK and I are all sensitive to this issue and for good reason. Portland can't be investing heavily in bad plans.

…that said, the less said about some ... the better

I appreciate your response and thanks for the opportunity to share

Posted by: sheriff jeff [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 15, 2005 12:08 PM

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