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Tuesday 07.19.05

« Justine Kurland at PICA by Isaac Peterson | Main | Ingredients: Art Battle »

Do the PICA Shuffle?

PICA has made two announcements, maybe three.

First off, Mark Russell has been named Guest Artistic Director of PICA's Time-Based Art Festival 2006 & 2007. Ok, a guest director is an innovative idea. Read about it here in the Portland Tribune.

PICA's own website is woefully out of date so don't look there.

What the Trib missed though (it was buried deep in the press release) is that longtime Managing Director, Victoria Frey, is now Kristy Edmund's replacement as Executive Director.

This isn't so innovative when PICA is in desperate need to recover a tarnished image in the visual arts, generate excitement, forge ahead in new directions and reinvigorate fundraising.

Frey has some serious questions to answer. The first being, "How is this new?" We also note how clearly the press release states that the TBA festival (performance art) is their "vanguard program." That #2 slot is where the visual arts stands folks. PICA and Frey will have to really make a case for PICA being relevant in the visual arts in Portland.

Granted, the press release indicates there will be a "Guest Visual Arts" curator named in the Fall, but that task is a rather tall order. First is the space issue. PICA's current corporate lobby space is simply inadequate for serious exhibitions as pointed out by PORT yesterday and my article 2 months ago. Locals lovingly call it the "coat check." Not exactly worthy of the national level programming that PICA has as its stated mission. Next, is the fundraising issue, PICA needs to raise or allocate $75,000+ to do this properly. ($125,000+ is more like it) This amount is definitely do-able and the money exists but I'm uncertain if it exists for PICA's spotty record. It requires a curator that instills confidence and excitement along with the savvy to connect to the audience here.

Will a guest curator be capable or even have the pull as an "instant lame duck" to raise that kind of excitement and funds?

This guest curator will also need combat the rather significant hurt feelings with the art scene. Can a curator do that from afar or on a "guest" salary? Does guest = part time?

PICA doesn't just need a guest visual art curator, they need a miracle worker.... or they have to settle for lowered expectations.

Still, with the Art Museum's $40,000,000 new wing sporting some exciting contemporary programming PICA's visual arts isn't going to be able to survive lowered expectations and miracle workers aren't easy to come by. I want PICA to succeed in the visual arts but it will require some serious thinking.

The Oregonian noticed some of the same issues.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 19, 2005 at 22:54 | Comments (7)


PICA has always been disconnected from the artists in Portland. The best evidence of this gap was their decision to have the "Open Walls" show. That show 'made sense' only because they were so cut-off from the amount of work that was being created.

The FIRST thing I thought when I saw the curator in "Me, You and Everyone We Know" was PICA. It reminded me of their strange 'don't feed the locals' attitude. "No, I can't take that from you, you have to mail it to me."

Whatever you thought about "Greater New York", you have to ask: why does P.S. 1 fill their halls with hundreds of emerging local artists (most of whose work is 1/2 as good as portland artists) and PICA can't do the same?

PICA needs someone who will hang out in local artists studios, talk to them, go out and about and get down and dirty with the locals and showcase the best work. Sure, they show a few - but it's really only those couple that they have a kind of 'darling' relationship with.

Why can't they have a Curator's Incubator program? Take on local art scene curators for a few months at a time and work with them to show their vision.

Posted by: MOR [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 21, 2005 11:51 PM

MOR, I thought you were going to suggest a local artists-in-residence program and then you surprised me with your innovative "Curator's Incubator Program". I love it. Curators are on the front lines of scouting fresh talent and a marriage with a legitimate, non-profit institution allows for some unconventional, boundary-pushing curation. It also provides the perfect outlet for curators to offer exposure to (young?) local artists whose work might be more conceptual and less commercial. The whole thing could really grow the legitimacy of the local art community. Of couse, I don't think PICA should become a strictly regional venue, but a substantial, ongoing program directed specifically at Portland-based artists could gain serious national attention. C'mon PICA (or PAM), whaddaya think?

Posted by: jenn [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2005 01:13 AM

dear jeff jahn,
maybe you should post a "disclaimer" next to all of your "sponsors" logos, letting your readers know that the sponsors don't necessarily agree with everything you have to say.....unless you send all of them your posts/have them verify your opinions before you publish them, because otherwise you might start miss-leading people.

Posted by: daniel [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2005 03:15 AM


Thanks for the comment although it's germain to all port writers and commenters alike and not just myself. I believe a simple disclaimer in our mission statement is the proper place.

Port is a place to air opinions and do some critical analysis. Opinions wont F**ing kill anyone... except maybe institutions which its why they really pay close attention.

That said did I touch a nerve? You should know Im hard on everyone... PICA needs to show the visual arts it isn't an afterthought and although I'm not speaking for our sponsors I can say it's a pervasive opinion amongst PICA visual art supporters and major visual art professionals in town (and nationally). You might even notice I'm a patient grouch.

Lastly, Im not some PICA basher, I support them through airing these concerns more publicly and often with $$$. I want them to succeed but they give me real reason for concern.

Other pet issues:

Oregon Biennial needs to be more serious and focused... BTW everyone should have new work ready by january... it is slated to happen next summer.

Portland's established galleries need to take on many of the (frankly) superior new artists in town. Any gallery that just takes on "has been" artists from has been galleries that "have been" are perpetuating mediocrity and are on my list.

That said does my list mean anything... "probably not". But like some secret santa I do it, just because.

The real solution to the new artist issue is a new gallery or two need to assert themselves. The quality of unsigned artists currently in Portland exceeds the quality of most of the current gallery rosters. As a hypothetical group, the top young artists in town continue to be more cutting edge than any gallery or institution in the city. Chambers, Gallery 500 and Motel are the three leading candidates but all are now just starting to establish their stables. Savage continues to redefine itself and I like the nobless oblige that it puts forth.

Posted by: sheriff jeff [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2005 09:30 AM


While you state " Im not some PICA basher", having read your Port and NW Drizzle columns for going on two years I would argue that your mentions of PICA has been been more bash than boast.

As a local artist that has seen my career skyrocket with PICA's support, I'm going to go ahead and publicly stand up for them.

At the advent of Port and one of your PICA-needs-to-step-up-the-visual-arts-plate posts, I sent you a long email which essentially said that your failure to ever mention the success of TBA did a disservice not only to PICA but to Portland. I had just returned from showing my work in Europe (due directly to performing at TBA) where people who had never been to the US were eager to know about the new PICA director, dancers wanted to know how to get into the festival... in short, people didn't just know about TBA, they already knew parts of the 2005 line-up. In two years PICA has created an internationally recognized festival, arguably the most important performance festival in the States.

Although you and I have had good conversations about the arts in person and through email, you responded that you didn't have time to read my email. But, you assured me, that PORT wouldn't neglect performance.

Frankly, I haven't seen it yet. And I don't think PICA is well served by your frequently restating the same point about the dire need for an expanded visual arts program (three times in the last two months or did I miss one?). I think I can safely say they--and everyone else who reads you--got the memo. And while I'm sure they appreciate your financial donations, you are in a unique position to help in a much more important way, namely "catalyzing critical discussion and disseminating information," to borrow from Port's mission statement, about what they are doing and what they're doing right. I'll admit to being biased, but I believe the TBA festival is already the strongest ambassador for Portland as a creative place internationally, except for maybe Gus Van Sant. It's also for my money the only ten days a year when I'd take Portland over New York for experiencing art.

I'm not looking for a personal response, Jeff. Instead, I challenge you and your fellow writers to incorporate a broader range of the Portland art scene into Port and spill some digital ink on the upcoming TBA festival.

I'm looking forward to it.

Posted by: Andrew Dickson [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2005 02:41 PM


Point taken but the fact remains visual arts programming for PICA is in limbo and a shell of its former self... this isn't bashing or nagging, it's a fact. PICA themselves arent so flustered by intelligent criticism and staff have mentioned how they appreciate how it isnt just griping and carping but a discussion with context. There is a lot of love in what Ive written this year.

note... PORT is taking part in TBA.

Next I separate the visual arts from Time Based Art festival because it is a separate issue and separate program. TBA does well and has been very good to you but it's inclusion in the discussion confuses the issue of visual arts programming.

Now lets look at the facts, Ive given 3 PICA visual art programs 2 favorable reviews and one mostly favorable review since January. Also, over the years I have been one of PICA's best critical supporters when it is most deserved....period. (William Pope L. and Erika Blumenfeld were brilliant, great shows and right now similar shows can't be staged without a major rejuvination.)

If I keep harping on the same things its because the issues remain, mostly due to serious restructuring. PICA is aware of this and Ive had nice conversations with the staff, they know they have challenges and frankly they have been awaiting high level staff decisions which have made things a bit shakey (because they have been filling those positions).

Still, staffing decisions dont diminish the need and they have some very serious things to contend with. No I'm not a basher but I dont drink the coolaid either. Im being fair and I compare them with similar institutions and if it stings its because I'm not in the business of cutting anyone any slack.

If an institution really sucks you will notice most reviewers, this one included, will simply stop writing about them.

Portland is very much in a time of getting its cultural act together and its only natural that weak points will be criticised. PICA has its work cut out and its foolish to think otherwise.

Posted by: sheriff jeff [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2005 03:22 PM

I agree, there are two conversations about PICA. One about performance, one about visual art.

If I'm not mistaken PICA is called the "Portland Institute for Contemporary Art", not PIPA (the "Portland Institute for Performance Art"). Therefore, I think it's only natural to expect PICA to give serious attention to performance, visual, installation, etc i.e. all forms of contemporary art.

Before leaving town, I was a PICA member and would gladly donate art and money again to support a strong visual arts program equal to TBA. If PICA wants to become Portland's P.S. 122 they need to change their name and mission statement. I hope that doesn't happen, but if all the energy and money goes to TBA and none to the other elements of contemporary art it will have happened by default.

Writing this from a city where every 2nd person on the street is an 'out-of-work' performance artist/dancer I can't help but wonder if PICA could even survive as a perform-ace based institution. Even the most reviewed, most acclaimed performance artists and modern dancers in NY don't earn enough to survive (ex. Sarah Michelson). Luckily there is a strong 'art world' to support some of them.

Posted by: MOR [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2005 04:55 PM

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