Last March during a lecture at PNCA, John Jay of Weiden + Kennedy and Japanese design guru Teruo Kurosaki threw out a challenge to Portland's designers, artists and creative community to make Portland the next design mecca, on par with Tokyo and New York. Drawing parallels between the creative lifestyle offered by Portland and that of Tokyo, Jay and Kurosaki suggested that the next step in moving Portland towards being an international presence is to create an interchange between designers in Portland and Tokyo. Compound Gallery has been doing just this sort of thing for the past several years - its mission statement (probably not coincidentally) embodies the type of cross-cultural pollination that Jay and Kurosaki were urging.
For those unfamiliar with this Chinatown space, Compound Gallery is a part of the Just Be Complex, a hybrid business that also includes a design studio; a store selling anything to do with urban/street/skater/Japanese culture, from scantily clad Rei figurines fit for any otaku's hovel to t-shirts by former Portlander Scott Patt; and a video rental featuring Asian flicks and an impressively comprehensive selection of anime. It's analogous to Zakka (NYC) and Giant Robot (LA).
Compound has always been ambivalent towards Portland's art community and perhaps rightly so. It's Portland's most cosmopolitan gallery (especially ever since PICA dropped its curator and its gallery space) and is the only art space in Portland where one can expect to see contemporary art from outside of the US on a consistent basis. Despite the fact that Portland is populated with transplants, a sizable sector of its art world is enamored with "supporting local artists," in some cases to the extent of being hostile towards outside artists or refusing to recognize the merits of Portland-based artists who show regularly outside of Portland. Liberated from a great deal of Portland's art world politics and economics, Compound Gallery embraces a very specific niche and they do what they do very well. While one can't expect to find anything groundbreaking in terms of the greater contemporary art scene, Compound Gallery does manage to put on consistent shows by some of the most active Japanese and American artists working at the forefront of graphic design and illustration. Work with strong roots in Japanese graphic design is au courant in the art world right now, from west to east (e.g. Chiho Aoshima at Blum & Poe, Marakami's takeover of NYC). While time will tell whether or not this trend is here to stay in the contemporary art world, the type of work being produced by young Japanese artists and designers will certainly have a lasting influence in the design world for years, if not decades, to come.
Compound Gallery's latest exhibition, supported in part by (no surprise here) Weiden + Kennedy, presents a group of young talents from digmeout, which describes itself as an "artist excavation project" based in Osaka that seeks out and promotes talented, up-and-coming young artists. During the opening on first Thursday, an exuberant throng of Japanese press took over the gallery, documenting every action of the many exhibiting artists who were visiting for the opening. The show was a reprise of last summer's digmeout exhibition, featuring many of the same artists alongside several artists new to the digmeout fold. Highlights include Ryuji Otaui's stark prints, decadently kitschy and glam; nostalgic, narrative collages that take a cue from 50's era illustrations by artist collective Re:VERSE; ZanPon's drawings of doe-eyed girls emerging from a chaotic tangle of scribbles; dreamlike, psychological paintings by Heisuke Kitazawa (aka pcp); and a charming video involving humans with cat ears, bunnies and flying buses by Mimi Murai. Whether or not Portland will indeed step up to John Jay's challenge remains an unanswered question, but Compound Gallery is certainly doing its part to make sure Portlanders are seeing the best of Japanese design while helping to ensure that Portland is on the radar of young designers worldwide.