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Wednesday 02.21.07

« Back from Rio | Main | Apply! »

Is Liverpool the next Portland?

I'll be posting that list of Portland artists with shows outside of town in 2007 that Ive promised (maybe later today). Till then:

The Guardian is claiming that Liverpool is like San Francisco with greyer weather? Ha, that doesn't sound anything like Portland at all does it? Actually we don't want that kind of title here and the fact is Portland is kinda the anti San Francisco. Which is why in 2005 the Norton collection's curator remarked to me, "All of San Francisco's best artists are moving to Portland." It isn't just Harrell Fletcher and Chris Johanson... there are a pile of others like Patrick Rock, Jesse Hayward, Brittany Powell, Emily Counts, Todd Johnson and even Brenden Clenaghen ...etc. (it's a huge list) who all have done stints in SF only to settle here.

Sure, Portland has similarities to an older San Fransisco but it's different, we arent a financial center and we are more of an alternative to the mistakes of the second half of the 20th century. Ideologically the PDX thing is something completely different. Add in over 10,000 artists to the mix of a city this size and see what happens. The city is a rebel base and I think it's increasingly dfficult to talk accurately about Portland art without looking outside of Portland. To that end, PORT's Amy Berstein will be covering The Armory etc. this week in New York.

*Update: Matt McCormick just jogged my memory, he was in the Liverpool Biennial... see why the Portlanders outside of Portland post has taken so long to come out! (PDX-ers feel free to email me with updates before I publish the list tonight)

Posted by Jeff Jahn on February 21, 2007 at 11:15 | Comments (4)


Growing up in the Bay Area and moving here from SF seven years ago, I can attest to Portland having an early 80's SF vibe.

Besides the obvious charms of Portland, many artists/others are moving here for economic reasons...this is one of the last affordable cities on the West Coast. That is changing. Like present day Portland, SF in the 80's was a hotbed of culture production. It was a great place to live, and you could get by while working a part-time, minimal wage job (many did it with less than that).

I see more similarities between the downfall of SF and changes occurring in Portland than I see differences, so I don't share your optimism for the fate of the city...although I think Matthew Stadler is really onto something with his take on Thomas Sieverts' Cities Without Cities.

As long as we have the possibility of Beaverton, and a 'rebel camp' at 5051 SW Western, All Is Not Lost!

Posted by: stephen_cleary [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 21, 2007 06:47 PM

Well I dont buy th myth of Portland as cheap, nothing on the west coast is cheap and we only seem inexpensive compared to SF and Seattle. I find LA to be cheaper than Portland. Hence the reason the PDX migration isnt about rent.

I also see a lot of ideological differences from the SF thing (I was in LA durig the late 70's early 80's but visited SF a lot)

Yeah, Matt's suburban take sticks to his contrarin MO, I respect it but it cracks me up because it is very much what a writer would be comfortable with.

My own contrarion MO seems to point me in the opposite direction. I'm not gonna give up on the city, but it also means I'm personally willing to fight for better patronage and sophistication in the city.

The populist (and the related go where it is cheap) approach is fine and valid but my feeling is it ceeds too much to a culture of expediency and token marginality that gets romanticized in a way that fetishes its own inevitable defeat at the hands of monied interests.

A large contingent of the artists arent here because they plan to eventually colonize Beaverton as some artist utopia. The city proper is very important and its why there is so much dscussion (I think we can both agree on that).

I like the fact that Rubens was a statesman and I like it when artists arent ghettoized to wherevr inexpensive.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 22, 2007 10:41 AM

I was talking from a Bay Area perspective-it's a lot cheaper in Portland.

If you take away Seattle and SF, LA is pretty much the only other choice on the West Coast. It's a completely different animal-a sprawling metropolis where, sure you can find a cheap place in Downey (and spend exactly the same amount of time on the freeway as your friend living in Chinatown). I love Los Angeles, but it's a hard sell for most. I'm not saying that the PDX phenomena is all about the money, but the artists I know either come from money (none as wealthy or well-placed as Rubens) or don't have much of it-money matters, and we'll see how it plays out as Portland changes.

I don't think Matthew is being contrary, or that he is giving up on cities. I think he's one of the pragmatic optimists you often write about. If Portland is a 'rebel base' where artists can live while exhibiting internationally, that opportunity is available to other places. Musicians, benefitting from the perfect marriage of technology and art, have already capitalized on this fact-there is no longer a center in music or a need to be discovered in a city.

And yes, with so much in flux, it's a great time for discussion.

Posted by: stephen_cleary [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 22, 2007 07:52 PM

That's all fair we can go back and forth about terminology but I think I hear you.

Personally I think most interesting writers take up a type of contrarian position, it's in the blood... writers like to stake out their angle.... otherwise you are just writing copy for J Crew catalogs.

(OK ill tackle this because I just went to this bar for wifi and someone just bought me a drink because of my take on the O angle in the "globetrotting pdx artists in 2007 article". I hardly drink so forgive this.)

My take: Matt's a cheery guy in person but he definitly likes things that are ephemeral... like that old essay in the Organ about artists happenings that are strong during the event but fade away... Im not against that but its definitely not my favorite thing most of the time. I'm more interested in the durable parts of culture... I love museums and people who make ephemeral things that manage to persist (ok I love paradox).

Matt does his palimpsest thing (as a form of art), I do my historical, stand the test of time thing (as a service to a form of art). We both have our conditions of worth and they are very different but have valid points to make. (Im a musician who got annoyed with the ephemeral aspect of performance, so I went back to my first love... art... Ive got watercolors with fall landscapes dotted with barns from when was 6)

Other contrarians:

Greenberg was against the swelling low brow "least common denomenator" of pop kitsch taste in America (he got it wrong but he was noble, sort of).

Alfred Barr took the messy history of European avant agarde art and helped forge a more more coherent but too narrow version to sell to America.... it became modernism but I dont feel it was accurate... just coherent.

Marcel Duchamp tried to negate the object and aesthetics.

If you dont like the term I guess contrarians could simply be considered polemicists? I like contrarians... my hell is a room full of people who agree with me!

As far as Portland goes I think its important to go for intelligent discussion about what this means.

You are right LA is a mess, I kinda just want Portland to take the changes seriously as opposed to letting them happen in a way that erases itself and its quirky intelligence...?

What is interesting is how much most everyone here cares about the topic of Portland's future. I think it matters for vthe rest of the country, I didnt come here to avoid the worlds problems I came here because I sense Portland was closer to the important talking points of what makes life worth living... good food, good company, good questions, good conscience and why not some good art to encapsulate it all?

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 22, 2007 09:04 PM

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