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Friday 01.13.06

« Brettell Lecture at PAM | Main | Portland Art Museum free on MLK Day »

Gately Q & A in the O

In today's Oregonian, D.K. Row publishes an interview with the Museum's new Curator of Northwest Art, Jennifer Gately. The interview offers a cursory overview of Gately's motivations, interests and thoughts on her new position. As long as I've been in Portland, the Museum has completely ignored young local artists, except for the token exposure of the Biennial. The frustration felt by the city's emergings is palpable. Gallerists in other cities are shocked when I tell them that the museum's contemporary curators don't visit (of buy from) the younger galleries in town. In the Q & A, Row presses Gately on this pervasive discontent and she responds,

People are obviously angst ridden by this issue... Of course, change takes time. But I wouldn't be skeptical given the new wing (devoted to contemporary art) at the museum. I think the museum is aware of that (dissatisfaction) and everything happening now is an answer to that.

Hiring Gately, who seems to be in touch with how Portland's up-and-comers fits into the greater schema of contemporary art, is a good first step. I'll also take it as an auspicious sign that Gately has already been in my own 'lil gallery before even beginning her work at the Museum. Let's hope that she will infuse the Museum with a much needed enthusiasm and begin engaging with Portland's young creatives with a seriousness that we haven't yet seen. We can also cross our fingers that as PAM undergoes major staff changes, it will, as Gately suggests, rectify some of it's past offenses and make a commitment to our city's talented up-and-comers.

Posted by Jennifer Armbrust on January 13, 2006 at 14:15 | Comments (5)


The change in museum directors at PAM will have a huge impact on the institution. In fact its changed a lot already (even before John left). Has anyone else noticed that Eric Palmer and Erin Kennedy are up in the Northwest wing? Also Marie Watt holds her own on the Jubitz Center's 4th floor. Bruce Conkle has just been added to the collection (ever the pessimist I bet Bruce fully expects the work to remain in storage forever).

Still, the next biennial will be the big litmus test in the eyes of the general public. And really how much does the biennial matter if you are already showing nationally or have already made a name for yourself regionally? The Bay Area Now has gotten a lot of attention but many of the Bay Area's best have moved to Portland... and yes Portland has a massive pool of artists. Are they all good, no... but some would put anything similar nationally to shame.

Another big problem with having a northwest curator and wing, plus a contemporary curator and wing is the issue of ghettoizing the young artists in Portland who dont think of themselves as inherently regionalists. In fact, many artist in Portland have higher visibility outside of of the region and many would rather be shot than hung in the "northwest wing".

I think the current hang at the Jubitz Center adresses this somewhat since it does put living contemporary artists from Portland that show nationally right next to contemporary artists from elsewhere.

Also, it isnt just the hoard of artists in Portland that understand that a lot rides on this biennial. Many collectors (and big donors to the museum) noticed as well too.

So yes, the last biennial caught the curator off guard and that happens (in some ways it was good for the artists, it created a much needed hullabaloo) but that is the past now and I do see PAM curators at openings often these days.

I'm certain Gately will hear about the previous biennial constantly, but everyone now knows what is at stake.

Additionally, with all the shows that have happened in the last 3 years, along with the catalogs (and a documentary film in the works) it's actually a lot easier to know what is going on in the scene.... with that I think we will have surprises not just some statistical sample of that core sample show years ago. (many called that one snore ample).

Let's face it all surveys are flawed, its a big museum and they always come late to the game (its also why the Whitney Biennial seems like art world cliff notes).

Lastly, I think it is a greater mark of distinction for artists to make a name for themselves without being discovered in a biennial. The really great ones create their own weather.


Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 13, 2006 03:24 PM

I'm glad to read Jennifer Gately likes installation work. The Biennial prospectus included installation in the eligible media, but the 108 x 108 x 36 inch limitation pretty much ruled it out.

Posted by: SimEnzo [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 14, 2006 08:23 AM

The museum will always lag, sometimes following, sometimes not. I'm sure the curators could fill in the details, but the museum sometimes accepts donations of work by current artists. How to get into Carnegie hall: practice, practice, practice; the museum: donate, donate, donate!

The biennial has gotten many artists signed by galleries, but ultimately the work needs to be good enough to sell, which is entirely in the hands of the artist.

As for the artist's age variable.. The hubris wears off with age as emotional depth kicks in. The process of making art is complex enough, that age is only a minor variable in the equation of quality. The value of young is twofold: first - more People Magazine worthy (substitute here any zine, music/ art / culture publication/ blog, website, etc.), second - more years to exploit by signing cheap, young, and raising prices later. Call it the Brittany effect.

Posted by: Criticaleye-notpen [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 14, 2006 02:21 PM

I agree with the above statement. Maybe age is not so much the point as exposure... and there are plenty of innovative artists of all ages here, making work which is underexposed, not recognized by galleries or the museum.

Posted by: lsd [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 15, 2006 08:35 PM

I agree with your statement about how most artists worth paying attention to rarely need the museum to qualify their work. In Portland, word about interesting work travels super fast. The catch is that the work HAS to be interesting in or out of the presenting institution. Often, artists are the ones to ask for recommendations, not gallerists, curators, or even critics. By the time word about the work has reached these people, it is buoyed by the spectacle surrounding the artist. Who his or her patrons are, where the artist has shown, and where the work has been written about. Most curators have their hands tied by these situations, and would rather do the right thing, than risk doing the wrong thing.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 17, 2006 12:30 PM

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