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Wednesday 10.19.05

« Super-8 Opera Prima Encore | Main | Mike Rathbun at the Art Gym »

WWeek vs. Oregonian & vis art coverage

Ahh the latest WWeek jab at the Oregonian... must be a slow news week (yet still no art feature in the WWeek... in fact no review this week), whereas the Oregonian has been lavish with visual art coverage. Also, Ive always thought that "Death Row" is about the coolest nickname a critic could possibly have. If the editors are gonna fling mud at eachother they might as well fling some arts coverage around as well. The last WWeek feature article on the visual arts was in June!!!* Even the Mercury ran a feature on the affair art fair last month.

*Correction the WWeek ran 1 feature article between June and today's date but it is not archived online, "PAM Deconstructed" on September 28th. Similarly the old reviews are not archived either but that is by design... (bad design but design it is).

Posted by Jeff Jahn on October 19, 2005 at 1:31 | Comments (12)


I've heard DK called "David", "Davy", "Da-Vo", "Deek", "D-Man", "Asshole", "Robin Hood", "Buddy", "DK ONE", "Darkstar", "Room for two", and "Dickmouth". Until now, I hadn't heard Death Row. That's a good one.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2005 11:44 AM

Yes, more visual arts coverage from some of the other media outlets would be great. The WWeek's visual arts coverage is down to less than half a page this week (including the listings). Last week it was about the same. While I was skeptical of the Oregonian's new "O" format for their Sunday edition, so far it has consistently featured more visual arts coverage than their previous arts section did. That is in addition to that their weekly coverage in the Friday A&E section. So, like it or not, the Oregonian still leads the pack in visual arts coverage. They are also the only local printed media source that features more than just one critical voice (freelance writers Harvest Henderson and Victoria Blake are regular contributors). The Mercury, well, has at least been consistent in their diminutive 2 paragraph reviews and 3-4 visual arts listings each week (special kudos to them for managing to spell Stuart Horodner's name correctly in this year's feature on the Affair at the Jupiter).

As for DK's unofficial nickname of "Death" Row, that seems to be a hang-on from years past when he was writing for the WWeek and his reviews tended to be more caustic than they are at the Oregonian. I haven't heard anyone refer to him as that in years (although I did hear a local artist describe that they were "DKO'd" - I thought that was clever).

Posted by: MB [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2005 12:23 PM

The WW editorial POV, which governs the feature article, is muckraking cynicism. Can a useful feature on the arts come of this? No. The WW is focused on suburban circulation by ridiculing all things Portland. For instance an ostensibly positive article on local sustainable farms was headlined "Attack of the $3 Tomato, how Portland's snooty tastes...". You don't want a WW feature on the arts.

As for the Oregonian, the most positive development would be to extend the existing articles into a longer blog written by the incumbent writers who are otherwise space limited. Then develop an index of past articles by artist.

Portland is developing some credibility as a haven-incubator for emerging artists. Let's parlay this into increased coverage in national and international publications whose reviews are resume worthy. Reviews, much less features, in the WW or Merc will never be.

Posted by: Criticaleye-notpen [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2005 05:22 PM

(As a quick note, I moved away from Portland 4 years ago, but I remember the moniker "Death Row" quite well.)
Everyone at "Port" excitedly promotes the evolving fertility of the Portland art scene, and it is with lingering civic pride that I read about it here. As an MFA student (yeah I know, me and everybody else, but bear with me), I can enthusiastically attest to the fact that a number of prominent, successful, and engaged contemporary artists that I have met directly through my studies are often quick to let me know how "hot" Portland is during studio visits or post-lecture chats.
SO. I have tried to remain loyal to the Mercury, WWeek, etc. I even managed to check the WWeek , well, weekly (pardon the pun), for quite some time. But I have to say its coverage is dismal. Truly, truly dismal, and I frankly lost interest some time ago. I don't bother most of the time because I know that there will be little, if any coverage of the visual arts (apart from this summer's cover story). How is it possible? When I lived in Portland, every second person I knew was a musician, and seems to me that now every third person is a visual artist. One of the reasons I moved to Portlad many years ago was the music scene, but how many music columns does Portland need? Where's the visual arts coverage?
As much as I enjoy reading insights by Chas Bowie, and "Port"'s own Jeff Jahn, Jennifer Armbrust, Katherine Bovee, and Isaac Peterson, I can't help but wish for more, and specifically more depth. Where is this influx of talent I keep reading about? Surely, some of them must have some interest or skill in writing, and not just writing reviews. Where are the curators and critics that smell the heat, follow the artists, and want to be a part of the action?
As terrific as I think it would be for Portland to increase national and international coverage, I can't help but feel that a large part of accomplishing that goal lies in a more varied and penetrating coverage of the scene locally. What does it mean to make art in Portland now? How does P-town fit into a West Coast/L.A. culture that is increasingly surpassing the East Coast in innovation, credibilty, and influence? How does the confluence of these forces, and the incredible influx of artists, translate visually? How is the community (not the recent transplanters, I'm talking at least 5 years residence) engaging this increasingly visible and active segment of the population?
These are just a few of the questions I often wish to have answered as I observe from a distance the creative development of a city I love so well-answers that are damned hard to find. I appreciate the difficulty of commenting on a hurricane from the eye of the storm, but I also feel that the community only benefits from the depth of this critical eye.

Posted by: joewbrown [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2005 11:52 PM


Thanks for the kind words and feedback from afar regarding the buzz about Portland. Indeed, it is just the tip of the iceberg but PORT has significantly increased the amout of visual arts coverage in town.

There are lots of young curators like Paul Middendorf who has a new project called Homeland or Laurel Gitlen who has her new Small A Projects space. Port has touched on them some already. Other groups like Rake arts, Red 76 and The MOST are very active as well. There is also a new Portland Modern publication out there. Also there is Eva Lake's Artstar radio program on KPSU. The archives are available online.

As far as even more info my Fresh Trouble show's website was just updated with a ton of pictures under images. Also a documentary film is in the works.

As to your question about how Portland fits into the West Coast scene, it was the subject of my The Best Coast show in 2003. There is an essay out on art critical for the show too if you want more analysis.

It's true we are right in the eyewall of the Portland art hurricane and we could use more documentation from the WWeek who seems to have decreased their coverage significantly after their "redesign". The Oregonian has increased coverage during the same time and as far as print media goes they dominate.

Still, PORT probably is your single best 1 stop place for art info on the portland art scene. Thats why when you google "Portland Art Scene" you get us. In the last month and a half our readership has nearly doubled.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 20, 2005 09:16 AM

Hi Joe,
You bring up some excellent points; many of those questions I ask myself daily. Specifically, where is the legitimate coverage of Portland's emerging art scene? As you cite, the number of young artists here is almost astounding. And many of these are serious about their work, showing nationally, selling and still not receiving critical attention. My only conclusion is a problem I've taken to calling "Portland Provincial". It's a rash that seems to have afflicted local press, collectors and even curators, left over from an era when Portland was just another small West Coast city. It is a sort of regionalism that misses Portland's position in the national and international dialogue. In many ways, Portland is still a small city and has not yet matured into a sophisticated cosmopolis. In its artistic adolescence, it still views itself as an isolated bubble. The consequence of this, is that visual art in Portland is forced to measure itself against itself (the snake eating its own tail). I have begun to wonder recently if the meager coverage given by critics, who seem to lack an interest in and knowledge of hot young nationals and internationals, won't result in some national publication, such as the New York Times, swooping in and snaking them with an article on Portland's importance and relevance as an artistic hot spot. Such an act should only embarrass the local press for not giving credit where credit is due and for their conservative, cranky-pants attitude. The local writers in town often take for granted their influence in helping build artistic careers. Instead they are looking for some sort of scandal or trying to deliver condescending lectures on what Portland's galleries and artists "should" be doing. If the Oregonian and weeklies don't start seeing the bigger (national) picture soon and make high-caliber coverage a priority it only seems natural that we should look beyong our own publications to more national ones for an accurate account of what is really taking place. The national press have already started paying attention. It's only a matter of time until artists are getting more column space from the outside than from the inside.

Posted by: jenn [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 20, 2005 10:24 AM


Your suspicions have already come to pass. The LA times and SF Chronicle have already championed an artist like Matthew Picton who has recieved nothing but guff from the Oregonian.

As for the Portland Provincial theory... its only part right... there is an old gaurd (and an old gaurd press) who have very little idea what is going on nationally and then there is a very active group of newcomers... a notable # are very sophisticated.

With a huge # of new people moving to the city it is difficult to pidgeon hole the sophistication level of the city. It is a multilayered question and it speaks well of Portland that it is difficult to pin it down. All I know is that there are people here who know their stuff and there are people here who surprise me with their lack of rudimentary knowledge... yet seem willing to broadcast that ignorance. Plenty of money exists here judging by the cars people drive... then there is the real estate boom here too.

Yes, we are an adolescent art city that was just given the keys to daddy's BMW but that is exciting. We still dont have the keys to the Ferrari but what is different here is the artists seem to be the ones in the drivers seat.

My bet Portland's future has been and will in the forseeable future be governed by those who discover what is going on here... be it those who reside here or those from elsewhere. Those who abdicate knowledge for ignorance will catch up years later or not at all.

The problem is some of the local press simply takes this backward regionalist stance that is no longer valid. As an illustration of the international activity here there were 2 local artists I wanted for Fresh Trouble but we couldn't swing it due to the fact they were showing abroad at the same time. Schedualing was simply too difficult. In other cases like Matt McCormick, TJ Norris, Bruce Conkle, Patrick Rock and Matthew Picton etc... it worked out.

Overall I think Thom Walters hit the nail on the head at the opening Met Life creative city commission (which I am a part of) when he pointed out that the leadership will be the defining element in this whole re-imagining of Portland. We have to be vocal and take charge to ensure that things are followed through in an interesting intelligent way. Ive discussed this with other critics and we all seem to agree the visual art explosion in the city isn't just about art but also how the city views itself. They just need to remember that many of the new artists here think and act internationally.

I'm doing my part... and so is Jenn... many many others are as well

Will the Wilammette Week step up to the podium in a big way or run things in a gossip column? I dunno.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 20, 2005 12:01 PM

Getting miffed at a local art critic because he doesn't agree with 'big city' art critics is as provincial an attitude as you can have. It's also an oddly subservient stance coming from a publication that constantly promotes Portland as heads and above better than those cities. Is it now Row's job to rubberstamp every Oregon artist who has had some critical or financial success in a larger art market? Even PORT can't keep up with that task. I'm happy for Picton's success, but disagreeing with Christopher Knight is as common as traffic in LA. Why would you expect (or want) anything different here?

Posted by: stephencleary [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 24, 2005 08:31 AM

ah the old SC saw and skew... glad my #1fan is still obsessed with what I write.

First of all it must be pointed out that DK didn't even write the Picton review in question and the WWeek just assumed my comments were directed only at David, they are not. (and seriously let's remember Harrell Fletcher had to be in two Whitney Biennials to finnally get an article out of the O...) Also, that Picton review came out before the Christopher Knight review so it couldn't have been a reaction. I'm just pointing out how other places are taking notice of Oregon's talent faster than the "paper of record" is. As foar as subservience... pshaw you've got to be kidding me? Ive been touting Picton forever. Instead of subservience to other critics it would be better construed as a widening consensus and support of an initial take.

Frankly I don't care if the Oregonian rubber stamps these artists or not, the Picton review was better than a good review because it showed how polarized the reaction has been to the work. If you can't polarize people with the art in question then it probably isn't very strong work. My goal is simply to point out a pattern in the Oregonian's coverage that has emerged. I must also point out the Oregonian does great things such as discovering new names and faces. David and his crew dig around and few newspaper art critics do that. He's said some nice things about me and some things I consider a distraction to the more serious issues, but that is life. He is engaged and that is what matters.

Second, Port gives credit when credit is due and is about raising the critical bar. We also do a fair amount of bashing as well (although you will find most critics tend to want to reward good shows with reviews more than rewarding bad shows with reviews).

Part of giving credit where credit is due is pointing out work that occasionally is superior to work elsewhere. We are also critical about our praise as my recent Rathbun review can attest (the obvious connection to Martin Puryear had to be made). Is Rathbun on Puryear's level... no, but he is still very good and both artists show all over the globe. Besides, very few international artists are as good as Puryear.

Look, there are a hundreds if not thousands of good to very good artists in Portland but maybe only 5-15 of them can go head to head with international competition. You can construct any # of paraphrased assertions and attribute them to me but that is my stance.

Lastly, the funny double edged sword of sophistication is that it requires a certain provincialism. New York is one of the most provincial places on earth a (mostly in a good way). That city has a certain pride in its self and its borders (and so does Portland) and ideally that pride is channeled into a kind of self awareness that drives it to acknowledge excellence. Portland's art scene is in a (magical) adolescent phase that is awkward and exciting. Conversely, New York is both a victim of and enjoying the wonderful fruits of its maturity. They are two different but interesting things.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 24, 2005 09:43 AM

I'm neither a fan nor obsessed...let's just say that I'm willing to participate in PORT's stated mission of being a "catalyst for the dissemination of critical discussion". When you change your mission statement to "events calendar", I'll gladly refrain from posting.

First off, I realize the O's review of Picton was made prior to Knight's. The disagreement I refer to was the different conclusions made by the two critics.

Secondly, The fact that the O article was written prior to the LA Times/SF Chronicle reviews (and that DK Row gave Picton a favorable review in 2000, and that you acknowledge that a bad review can be a good review), doesn't make very convincing evidence for your argument that "other places are taking notice of Oregon's talent faster" than the Oregonian. The only pattern that I can see is that you want the Oregonian to promote the same artists that you promote (or rather help widen the consensus of your initial take). If you believe that there are only 5-15 artists in Portland capable of head to head international competition (a topic for another post, I hope), then you're going to get disagreement and some omissions across publications (there's been plenty of the latter here too).

Also, the word provincial means "unsophisticated". I would argue that NY's blessing is its sophistication (combination of wordliness and self-confidence) and that its provincial nature (unwillingness to accept new ideas...stemming from its overconfidence and its deathgrip on twentieth century thinking), is its downfall. Portland will have a greater level of sophistication when it has the self-confidence that it is a special place, rather than constantly promoting itself as such.

Finally, while considering deathgrips on twentieth century thinking, I have to say I'm not much interested in this antiquated way of building up an art scene. I'm sure with your tenacity you'll have great success, but I find myself more interested in the artists and curators working on the periphery, taking advantage of openings afforded by technological communication and cities like Portland to atomize the dissemination of visual culture rather than using them to merely assimilate themselves more rapidly into a very old-fashioned art world structure that wouldn't have paid any attention to them ten years ago.

The peripheral approach has certainly changed the music scene for the better. It is also something we have in common with SF, Seattle and Vancouver, it has given Portand artists and curators some fantastic opportunities and it has provided viewers with the most thought provoking exhibits (no matter what side of the aesthetic fence you reside on). In fact, its how you got where you are.

Posted by: stephencleary [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2005 12:14 AM

Thanks for clearing "that" up.

Like I previously stated, I really don't care if a review is favorable or not, I'm just pointing out a recent trend or a position that they have taken up lately. As far as purely wanting the O to support my views about certain artists, you must be kidding. Sometimes a little resistance is very useful and my idea of hell is a place where everyone agrees with me. I'm not going to restate this any more, I think my position is clear enough.

I agree with your assessment of Portland and New York in terms of provincialism, nicely done. I dislike hollow promotion as well and what is exciting about Portland right now is that some artist here do have the confidence of which you speak. Instead of defining a city in terms of blanket statements (a necessary evil we are all guilty of) I think of the situation on a case by case, individual by individual basis and some artists here know what they have got. At the heart of it a city is defined by its inhabitants and their individual activities. When artists from here go to a place like Oslo, like Matt McCormick did recently for a Daniel Birnbaum?s recent show, they become exemplars.

As for the peripheral approach... that is why I and so many others are here. Sure I'm building up the scene in antiquated ways like curating shows, providing critical feedback etc. but the classics are classics for a reason. Still, I think Portland's scene has embraced a lot of 21st century strategies and I'm guilty of it too. It's a big experiment.

In fact, PORT is just another manifestation or node that allows the world access to the periphery. As I?ve stated before part of what is interesting about blogging is that suddenly everything is local.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2005 09:38 AM

Fair enough. Although the O could do better (and I agree that they have improved in both quantity and quality of coverage over the last year) I remain unconvinced of their having a backward regionalist stance.

To clarify, by "antiquated ways" I am speaking more of the tedium artists have to endure when moving from the local to the national and international level (all the time waiting for J. Worthington Snodgrass to write a "resume worthy review" so they can finally get a show at Gallery Bling Bling). I do not consider curating shows or writing criticism as antiquated.

Where some might consider the peripheral activties that artists in Portland and other cities have been involved in as stepping stones to the major leagues, I would ask them to consider the idea that they are the beginnings of a new league altogether.

Posted by: stephencleary [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 26, 2005 06:07 PM

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