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Friday 01.26.07

« Some small scale shows you may have missed | Main | Do It »

The O counts to 10

It's great the Oregonian did its 10 most influential movers and shapers articles here and here, I wouldn't dispute any of the choices but at 10 it is too few and one-dimensional for a town in the grips of such activity and change. Still, these are the sorts of discussions the Oregonian should be inciting, though doing it by an poll insured a strong bias weighted towards those whose influence is less controversial or so longstanding it cannot be questioned like Liz Leach or Arlene Schnitzer. Of the 10 only Leach is controversial and even then she's now mostly just controversial for having been successful (thank you Liz). All selection methods have flaws and Portland's scene has about 30 people who really are influential in important ways, maybe the WWeek or Portland Monthly can outdo this, but for most Port readers the list is not news and kinda like one of Rolling Stone's frequent lists of the greatest songs of all time.

The non-controversial bias is why no artists were named. All artists of any relevance are controversial to the point of being "political factions" in some way, even if they are only controversial because of their relevance.

The omission of all artists is a major problem, as the hyperactivity and increasing international reach of Portland artists has been the engine driving the changes in town (as first pointed out by Randy Gragg in the Oregonian years ago). Also, the list of nationally active artists is way longer than Row admits in his piece and those people have refocused a robust local art scene into one that is increasingly active internationally. One also questions the Oregonian's passivity or skittishness about using its own influence and opinions in doing a poll, but it's a step in the right direction. Still, the focus on money, not cultural cachet is where Oregonian's very conservative bias shows through here. Whereas the controversially talented (and or endowed) attract the help of those who take the other route. Both types of influence are important but the omissions on the controversial side are obvious:

Harrell Fletcher: He was in 2 Whitney Biennials before the Oregonian felt he was a noteworthy Portland figure. He's reinvigorated PSU's art program and brought a constant stream international artists and curators to town. Sure lots of people hate his work, he's doing something right.

Bruce Guenther: Chief Curator of the Portland Art Museum and a major oversight (right now he is more proven to be influential than his yet to be proven new boss, Brian Ferriso). He has firm, informed opinions and found a way to push forward the contemporary programming we are now enjoying at the museum, even when working for the former and decidedly non-contemporary focused director. He's spearheaded the changes that gave us Damien Hirst, curator Jennifer Gately, etc. Power is only influential when exercised.

Tom Cramer: The unofficial Artist Laureate of Portland. The best selling artist in the city, his repeated successes and consistent bar pushing with his work gives other artists hope in the sales department, while making some of them massively jealous. With over 10,000 in artists in town according to the now out of date census, this influence cannot be underestimated.

Jordan Schnitzer: I think everyone is just waiting to see how he steps out from under his parent's long shadow. He's a nice guy, easy to talk to and isn't controversial except for being the heir to both a fortune and a legacy. He did great things for the U of O campus in renovating the Jordan Schnitzer Museum. This guy puts up a whole museum and doesn't make the list, now this is a tough town! He even takes an interest in artists in town.

Jane Beebe: The Oregonian is wrong, several galleries in town besides Leach have a great reputation nationally. In fact, I heard of PDX gallery way before I moved here.

Jacqueline Ehlis: No artist in town works harder to just do great shows by having a serious studio practice (5:00 AM folks) and she has serious connections. As probably the 2nd best selling/talked about artist in town and a very popular professor she has range that is tough to gage but very real. Her influence is more with artists and risk taking collectors as a benchmark and a standard of take no prisoners professionalism married to talent. She's the hard-assed gold standard in town and the best abstractionist to come out of the Northwest since Jo Baer. There is something about her toughness and quality of work that pushes her past most of the other premier artists here despite the fact her last show in 2005 was her first fully realized outing.

Laurel Gitlen: Gallerist and Affair at the Jupiter Hotel Art Fair organizer. Small A projects has a national reputation and The Affair at the Jupiter Hotel has allowed other young Portland galleries to participate in other national art fairs. David Row has repeatedly discounted the importance of art fairs in my discussions with him and he's just wrong…

Sean Healy: An artist with big ticket projects with Thom Mayne, the FBI and a museum show in Houston in 2008. He being picked up by galleries outside of Portland makes him a breakout success and success brings followers.

There are others like Dan Weiden, Robert Pamplin, Al Solheim, Kristan Kennedy, Matt Stadler and Sam Adams seems to want to make the list... here's a fun question (and I mean this in a very constructive way) does David Row himself belong on an influential list yet? With articles like this he's taking some real steps but the truth is many of the 10 aren't fans of what he does. Frankly, though critical of him (and sometimes just the limitations of newspapers) Ive also been more of a supporter and that is the spirit I'd like this taken.

Still, this type of article was great thing to do, despite having difficulty addressing the young artists and other worldly transplants whose energy is reshaping Portland's cultural landscape. Why? Because of the O's conservative bias (they endorseed Ron Saxton didn't they?) leads them mostly to focus on money. It isn't a bad bias and it is a strategy that may help flush out more support. Yet any historian knows money usually comes late in the game when a city like Portland suddenly develops an international consciousness. It is exciting here and everyone, even the Oregonian, WWeek, Mercury, Portland Tribune, Portland Monthly and yes PORT have a major learning curve to navigate this year and this is a nice start. Let's go about this intelligently and critically.

I've been working on an article for a month that should be posted early next week. It will explore not just "who" but "what" and "why" things are happening the way they are and what can be done about it.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on January 26, 2007 at 17:09 | Comments (7)


Why is the article a "great thing to do"? Top ten lists are pointless. This is the kind of article (heavy on pictures, light on content) that drives Oregonian readers nuts.

You call the O conservative for focusing on money, but your own list contains two of the "top selling" artists, a "big ticket" artist, an art fair organizer, Weiden (advertising) and Pamplin (publishing). With few exceptions, a list that focuses on money and connections to the international art market.


Posted by: stephen_cleary [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2007 10:48 AM

It's great because the O is opening the discussion about influence... though I agree with you it is a bit slight. The move to use nice B&W pictures is probably a ploy to make the printed version of the A&E more relevant than the online version… newspapers are in trouble and I think the O has to be more like the NYT’s online by making any photos available.

Also, does anyone actually question Gavin's emotional fire... lol. He's not a vulcan and since when is emotional fire absolutely necessary? Too much is a liability.

Yes the O is conservative for mostly focusing on money... I also think its fair (if unbalanced or one-dimensional). Yes, when I made my supplemental list I point to connections and money but I also meantioned less tangible things like; talent, ability to push themselves/collectors and their work ethic.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 27, 2007 02:08 PM

Realistically, top 10 lists accomplish nothing except stroking the ego of the people that are mentioned in it, and informing the people that really don't care, that they probably care about the the top 10.

Granted it was good to see some people in there. Tom Manley was a surprise, but a good one. And I would bet money on Stefanie Snyder leaving to bigger and better things. I think DK "Death" Row deserves to be in the honorable mentions category. Whatever your opinion of DK may be, he is definitely reaching out to Portland through the most widely read publication in Portland. I personally enjoy DK.

So Jeff, when are you and DK going to have an American Gladiators battle. Remember that TV show?

Posted by: Calvin Ross Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 28, 2007 12:34 AM

Never mistake my criticism for hostility, especially amongst critics. If it is worth criticizing it is worth something. The question is, “ are the words printed about Portland in the O advancing the discussion in a way that increases intelligent reflection or does it pander towards the least sophisticated and try to advocate rather difficult to support assumptions?”

You want more? How’s this new nugget, “Row absolutely has to dip into the O’s travel budget in order to remain a legitimate art critic in Portland because our art scene is increasingly active elsewhere with 2007 shows in Rio, Las Vegas, Moscow, LA, Houston, New York etc… ” Ha, it’s a tough job but I’m afraid the O might have to send someone to Venice and the fair in Basel Switzerland.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 28, 2007 01:27 PM

I know the criticism is all in good fun. Both you and DK and very important to the future of this city's art scene right now. And I think both of you are very strong art writers. I would like to see DK write something for a more art oriented Portland publication (preferably PORT) so he could truly write to his potential.

And if the O really needs someone to send away, it seems as if my schedule is looking pretty open. :)

Posted by: Calvin Ross Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 28, 2007 04:40 PM

i would like to have see vera katz on that list. she made the local art scene a political issue. i'm not sure what the end result of that will be, but seems like some seeds were planted.

randy gragg and matthew stadler deserve some props as well.

so does PORT!

Posted by: matt_mc [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2007 11:05 AM

Well i think its a bit much to expect the O to acknowledge other publications... I could see DK's editors getting all J.Jonah Jamieson about that. Weve got enough readers now that we aren't some cute lil startup. Only occassionally do I get J.Jonah-ish (last time was when we scooped everyone on the oregon biennial list). Overall, I'm a big tent guy, I think The O, WWeek, Mercury, Portland Monthly, Ultra and PDX magazine all provide important coverage... though I wonder why the WWeek has ceeded in depth vis arts coverage so much to the O. Seriously, the O gloats about how they dominate the vis arts printed media in town...

One of these days the WWeek is gonna get sick of being "pwned" by the O in terms of space allotted to the vis arts. Back in 1999/2000 they really had a lot more articles than the O, and good ones too.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2007 12:48 PM

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