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Wednesday 12.20.06

« Truitt things have never been said | Main | Opportunities To Keep You Warm »

Public Art, Public Smart

Portland Public Art has a great post or two on the new Chinese Dragon debacle down in Chinatown. Yes it's an attempt at yuppifying the street but a lot of the write-in comments going on over at the Portland Tribune are just wrong headed. Yes, it's a bad design by committee and that will happen when the process doesn't have sensitivity to excellence built into it but that is hardly a reason to damn all public art. Except for Chicago, I rarely have very high expectations for public art but I think the debate produced by the incident is very important. RACC has done its share of great things along with a few duds. The trick is to produce more great outcomes. The duds will linger and remind us of what not to do and boldness often becomes endearing even if it isn't someone's cup of tea. To remove public art from a city is to make the cityscape less open to questioning. "Why this, why here?" are good questions raised by good and bad art alike. Anything is better than apathy and neglect and Portland at its best abhors apathy and neglect.

My favorite public art pieces in Portland are the Kenny Scharf Tiki Totems (they seem to mock the Pearl in a hilariously reflexive way) and the super traditional statue of Lincoln in the South Park Blocks (there is an identical one in my home city of Milwaukee Wisconsin).

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 20, 2006 at 10:58 | Comments (4)


We agree that the majority of public art is bad/horrible (including the Scharf totems, barf!). The question we ask is, " is the art bad because it's for the public?" Yes! The Lincoln statue is great! There are many wonderful prints by Chase Christopher Cook that reference that statue.

Posted by: clarklovins [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 11:36 AM

The question is - does the decision making process work?

Eloise Damrosch of RACC, quoted in the Tribune, said "But we also stand by the thorough and inclusive design process the artist and the selection panel undertook for all of the sculptures."

Duds happen - as Jeff cites above. And I can't second-guess the process, because I wasn't there. RACC is an engaged bureaucracy, and probably as self-reflective as public organizations can be. So I hope Eloise's comment came after reflection and not before.

I don't agree the majority of public art in Portland is bad. Quite the opposite. But it's public art - which has many different qualities, virtues and purposes than private art. Sometimes the two overlap, but you the viewer and you the critic, need to swap goggles to see the value.

Posted by: cicolini [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 01:13 PM

thanks Cic,

I agree with you, the majority of public art in Portland isn't bad. Very little is exceptional, in the way that it is in Chicago though. Daly set up a tradition of boldness.

As to swapping goggles, I agree there too. In fact one of my favorite things to do is watch others looking at public art. I Think the Scharf totems have taken on more meaning as that part of the Pearl has developed... all shiny, overhappy and overly mad the faces seem to mimic the less than gritty urban environs in a taunting way. They would measure up to Chicago's standards.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 02:05 PM

thanks JJ and CC,
Yes, I think that was what clark was getting at, the process. I don't think it works that well either.

p.s. the beavers and bears are adorable, every time I shop at the pioneer place I get a warm feeling!

Posted by: clarklovins [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 25, 2006 04:54 AM

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