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Monday 06.25.07

« Getting You to See What's Right in Front of You: Alison Owen at TILT | Main | Press »

Great to be back

Thanks for bearing with our server outages Saturday night and Sunday. BIG thanks to Philippe, Jenn and Katherine.

Here are some recent things in local publications:

Richard Speer doesnt seem to like gloppiness... which is a shame because it's what makes artists like Franz West and things like mud wrestling work!

Over at the Mercury they took a break from nursing their all important/impotent hipster rage to write this about Anna Fidler's (really good) show.

Oh yes and David Row can write when he really respects his subject... I think this bit on Donald Jenkins a few years ago (which he posted recently) is the best thing he's ever written.

Also in the O (not exactly the best place for hard core analysis), Brian Libby's Dryden Goodwin review seems to have a genuine interest in the work.

Brad Carlile has been photoblogging some great stuff including the recent artist talk at NAAU... pay no attention to the dork pictured in the last image. At the talk Brenden Clenaghen brought up the point that The Hook Up is probably the most controversial show he's seen here since he moved back to Portland after grad school (in 1997?). Though he found the various reasons for the controversy "pathetic" because the show itself doesnt have anything truly controversial in it.

It's probably true about it being the controversial champ and it is really funny since it's just a solid show with a lot of big names (which shouldn't be controversial but is). Having participated I see it as a show where people trotted out some "experimental aircraft" from their studios before they made more statements in solo outings. The talk brought out some important discussion around each work. It was insightful to hear hat each artist was thinking. Perhaps a podcast after the show comes down?

Things keep getting more competitive here and there is nothing like a non half-assed group show to make people a little crazed.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on June 25, 2007 at 10:51 | Comments (13)


Comments

I was disappointed (again) to see that PORT does not follow its own dictates of "tough love" and "raising the bar" regarding the publication of reviews which involve the artwork of PORT's writers and site owners.

From the comments above about "The Hook Up" and from Arcy Douglass's review of the same (see: http://www.portlandart.net/archives/2007/06/off_the_plane_a.html), it's obvious that PORT cares very little about being an actual resource for the arts community in Portland, and has decided instead to trash its own integrity and trustworthiness in exchange for schilling for its home team.

I know I'm not alone when I say that I hope to never again read another PORT review of anyone who has ever written for PORT- there are other outlets in town, if the show is good someone will take notice- and I hope that Arcy Douglass will work hard on repairing her credibility.

I also hope that anyone who decides to contribute to this discussion will do so in a fair and non-aggressive manner. The problems that PORT has can be fixed, but comments that contain outright insults will obviously be removed, and it will be easy to ignore the suggestions of an email that is vitriolic.

Thanks.

Posted by: bigcity [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2007 07:39 PM

Thanks for your concern but your thoughts are misplaced. Though well intentioned they ignore PORT's model. Editorless, our reviewers have near complete independence and they make the call.... we take our integrity very seriously and have acted accordingly.

First off Arcy is (as far as I can tell) a man. I assume his wife can verify. Arcy chose the show and had complete independence in the review (frankly reviews in other publications seemed much more personally motivated)... you probably owe him some sort of apology as it was a well reasoned, even kieled effort. Also, when you have a broad understanding of the subject matter as Arcy has you can just fall back on a academic knowledge base and use 100 years worth of comparative analysis as a good benchmark for your crical baseline. He wouldnt have taken on the review had he felt compromised. Rather than suggest a conspiracy theory he must have felt strongly enough to address the show (and the anticipated shitstorm, It actually warms my heart that this is so civil, thanks)... Still, where else but PORT can you get that level of intellectually relevant writing? Had it been an obvious gush maybe you could make a case. His aim seemed to be to restore some sanity and depth to the discussion that those other outlets had pretty much avoided.

#2 We are not a newspaper and don't operate by those rules (so stop expecting it), we are a journal of informed very independent insiders with almost no editorial control. If you want people who are completely removed try a newspaper (with large payrolls) and even then the "objectivity card" is often pretty questionable.

In fact this is a perfect form of controversy. Good art writing is influential and often created amongst those who know eachother, in a city like Portland (or New York for that matter)it is a necessary type of art writing. If you paid any attention to what is written in most art magazines or how most curation is conducted you would notice how close knit the art world is. Rather than a weakness it is a strength as art is an idiomatic endeavor and knowing the suject matter actually leads to a lot of insight. Newspapers and generalist media like to stay more removed and often the writing shows, its an important role though, just as the insider publication is also an important role. You mistake us for something we are not.

#3 PORT is of the scene and hardly hides behand that fact. We are completely up front about being broadly involved here while retaining integrity. From the outset we have been open about reviewing the most noteworthy shows in the city and it would be tough to do so if we excluded everyone we know.

#4 History lesson: Many notable publications from the Partisan Review to Der Blaue Reiter had people critically discussing people they know. We dont have any official guidelines but our reviewers all have taken a pass when they felt they wee too lose o their subject matter. It was discussed and in this case Arcy was under no pressure to print a favorable review. Ive personally pulverized some of his work in reviews in the past before he joined PORT and I let him know it's a great chance for him to repay the favor or that he could simply ignore my work in the show if that made him more comfortable.

#5 Here's a question, what it had been an unfavorable review?

In my opinion it was a decent show, in a genre that Arcy is fond of and has a great deal of knowledge in. PORT is a publication of people who know just about everybody in town who is any good pretty well making. (though I proably woulndnt let anyone review a romantic interest) Frankly it would have been just as odd to stay away from the show. If it makes people crazy, it is their problem.

We have been completely up front about the nature of PORT from day 1 and that is our formula. Noteable shows get the attention they deserve and it's why we built writer independence into our model. That independence allows us to review our sponsors as well.

All art scenes are small and there are two types of publications, insider and outsider. We arent a newspaper or even an academic "ivory tower" publication. We have intellectual relationships to those forms but what we are is more like an insider review like the early days of the Partisan Review.

The point is we are going to publish sound reviews. Are you questioning its intellectual merits? Also since you didnt know Arcy is a man you must be feeling outside the scene, people are pretty welcoming around here... in fact introduce yourself to Arcy. After about 10 words from him you'd know he has the utmost integrity.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2007 08:16 PM

First: "when you have a broad understanding of the subject matter as Arcy has you can just fall back on a academic knowledge base and use 100 years worth of comparative analysis as a good benchmark for your crical baseline"---this is misdirection. I'm not quibbling with Arcy Douglass's ability or qualifications. But he couldn't use that broad understanding to review any one of the other 50+ shows in the area?

Second: why shouldn't you use good journalism and ethics rules? Why would you want to do otherwise? And, yes, the art world is close knit, but a good reviewer will make an effort to stretch his or her legs, instead of only curating or reviewing friends.

Third: You don't have to "exclude everyone you know"---just don't review the people you have a close relationship with, like close friends, someone you're sleeping with, or, in this case, your co-workers and your boss.

Fourth: I don't need a history lesson, thank you. Abuse of journalistic ethics has been commonplace enough to reach my ill-informed little ears.

Fifth: you forgot your fifth point.

Sixth: if it had been an unfavorable review the same question of ethics would apply. That's what ethics and integrity are for. It would not "have been odd" to stay away from the show. You could even post a little note: "We won't be reviewing this show, because two people who work for PORT are in it, but you should still go see it."

You are correct that notable shows get the attention they deserve...so why do you need PORT to review your work? If anything, it should seem superfluous to you; a "a solid show with a lot of big names" doesn't need to be reviewed on PORT, making a community resource into a personal plug.

Tough love, remember?

Posted by: bigcity [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2007 09:20 PM

1st: no the misdirection is yours... if you look at his background (having studied with Poons and been an architect) or his preferences I would say that The Hook Up would have been the most obvious choice for him to review. Our writers are encouraged to follow their noses.

2nd: We arent journalists, plain and simple. This is what you miss. This is peer review, not outside review. Both are important and have long histories. You are confused.

3rd: Excluding close freinds would have kept Baudeliare from discussing Delacroix and art history would have been stunted for it (same in this case, the scene is tight knit and excluding freinds would mean excluding many of the best artists, I hire critics who can be candid even when discussing those they know). PORT critics dont review people they are sleeping with. As far as me being Arcy's boss, it isnt really accurate. I give him a platform to be heard and help to compensate him for it a tiny bit but he really is treated like an equal. He had every opportunity to avoid the show and or review it negatively... he wrote what he saw... what's the problem with that... again are you questioning the soundness of what he wrote?

4th: once again we are not journalists, this is peer review... and yes you do need a history lesson, being ill informed is nothing to be proud of. If anything PORT is special because we are transparent about this.

5th point: I edit after initial posts, sorry

6th: Arcy made an ethical decision and its a sound one... just because it isnt the ethical format you seem to insist on doesnt mean it doesnt have rigorous ethical integrity. See #3 history lesson is important.

As for the decision to review a show: I did recuse myself of course, though it would be an amusing exercise that would carry an interesting tinge. Tinge is OK, all publications have it and we are open about it but yeah I deemed it superflous for myself.

Port doesnt have one voice it has many:

So, since Arcy had full independence to do what he wanted... and since PORT reviews are quantumly more "involved" that other media outlets here... and since PORT's mission is interested in filling those gaps our critics can independently choose to do so.

Arcy did so

...and if you were an artist who somehow got his attention (favorably or not) you could count yourself lucky to have met his very high standards of aesthetics and ethics. If he were to ignores the work it would be for a very good reason as well. He's a very thoughtful guy.

You simply misunderstand our ethical decision making as well as the type of publication we are. It's very present just not in the shape you expect. The onus is on the critic as a voice both in terms of relevance and ethics. Arcy excels at both.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2007 10:03 PM

Big City,

I think that I can understand the frustration that you are expressing in your post, but I also believe that it is misguided.

As a personal choice, I have decided that when I write a review, it is my job to make the ideas expressed in a show accessible and legible to the largest number of people. This might be a mistaken assumption but when I write I believe that alot of the people that read this website are artists. In a review, I am trying to make the ideas that are demonstrated in a show, useful to the largest group of artists who might be interested in those ideas. Those ideas can be useful to everybody, nobody is excluded. The ideas in a show might be "good" or "bad" but by distributing those ideas to the readers and the artists they can make up their own minds about what is useful. This also allows ideas that artist might be working with that might not be relevant at a current moment to become relevant again a later. Ideas do not have an expiration date.

Besides being an artist as well, I am single person, a human being. I know that something I do not respond to or like today might be exactly what I need tomorrow. The best way to allow for that evolution as a writer and as a person, is to concentrate on the ideas. Those ideas are the most useful thing, I believe, an artist can get from reading my reviews.

As an artist and as person, I am also allowed my personal reactions to the things that I encounter but because they are so often knee jerk reactions like everybody I do not necessarily trust them. I certainly do not trust to put them out in front of a large audience because they are just personal opinions. Everyone is different. Some people like chocolate, some people like vanilla. It is just a personal preference and not a value judgement. I think it is my responsibility to make the work legible to the largest cross section of audience, and then each person, individually, can decide if it is relevant to them at that moment. This is how I see my job as a writer for PORT.

I understand your critisms about a potential conflict of interest but I do not think it was true. The Hook Up was a group exhibition, and yes, some of the artists involved are associated with PORT, but there are also alot of artists in the show that aren't. In my review, I do not make many direct value judgements on the show. The entire review, perhaps to a fault, is finding and analyzing the ways that those artists' work relate to the plane of the wall. That is what I believe is useful and important to other artists. Ideas are ideas can be used freely by anyone. Any artist can take those ideas, and if they are relevant to that persons work, make his or her work better. As for the quality or relevance of the work each reader and person who sees the show should be entitled to decide for themselves, it is my job to provide the background.

Personal opinions are personal opinions and are best left to the individual. Art can only exist on a one to one level. Each person has to respond to a work in their own unique, individual way. That is why we devote our lives to it. To learn about the work, but also, maybe a little, to learn about ourselves.

Now if your critism is about why I chose to analyze the ideas in that particular show. It is a group show with some fairly well know local artists. The Mercury reveiw was incomplete at best and the ideas of these artists were not being communicated. In a way, the Mercury review was so flippant that it forced my hand. First as an individual, I felt like I could address that directly using PORT as a forum. That was a personal choice.

In the frustration of your email, I feel like you are saying that by choosing to review that I might have overlooked other shows that might have also been worth analysis. In this part, I totally agree with you. But I hope you understand, that in the way I see my reviews which might be different from other writers, choosing to write a review on a show is not purely a value judgement. I am not saying that one show is better than other, I am saying that these ideas might be helpful to other artists.

Do I get to see every show? Unfortunately, no. I am not a full time writer. In fact I see myself as an artist that writes about art rather an as a writer. We are community, if someone sees something interesting let them write about it and post it. It is always best when we can learn from one another. I am only one voice.

This is longer email than I wanted but your comments address some deep issues that were getting misunderstood and perhaps required an explanation. If the you do not find my comments or the review helpful, that is okay too, nobody has to like everything.

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2007 10:23 PM

Well said Arcy. I feel the same way, sometimes I wont review a show I really like or dislike because it has already gotten attention and I feel another show deserves a look..

The thing that usually gets me to chime in is whether reviewing adds something to the discussion and PORT's mission is to empower its critics and not necessarilly serve PORT. Sure it's easier to just avoid a show like the hook up but easy kinda makes for a boring world.

Arcy could have been more opinionated for my tastes but that doesnt matter... he has to persue his own tastes.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2007 10:51 PM

This all seems absurd to me. Essentially, the complaint is that Arcy knows a couple artists participating in the exhibition personally. I am pretty sure Arcy has the cojones (which we have already established that he does) to possibly write a negative review about a friend. And if that is the issue, then what? What worthwhile Portland art writer doesn't personally know all other worthwhile Portland artists? In case you haven't noticed, the Portland art scene is still relatively small. I am sure none of this makes sense, because my writing never makes sense when I am frustrated. :)

All I can say is, bigcity, I at least hope you went and saw this show, because it was a great show, and Arcy felt it was an important show. So in the end, what you are upset about is that Arcy wrote a good review for a good show. Yeah, that seems pretty controversial.

Posted by: Calvin Ross Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 30, 2007 02:33 PM

Jeff Jahn on Arcy Douglass:

"Still, where else but PORT can you get that level of intellectually relevant writing?"

Arcy Douglass on Jeff Jahn:

"The bright green gives the work all kinds of organic references."

Tough Love '07 to Jeff Jahn:

Can you call that sentence 'intellectual' with a straight face? Where else but PORT can you consistently get substandard writing that is billed on the marquee as brilliance? Go back to school. And pay attention this time.

Posted by: ToughLove07 [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 30, 2007 09:07 PM

I do detest the sound of a grinding ax. It just seems to go on and on. Maybe toughlove you could redirect your truly tiresome ire toward something more meaningful. Maybe instead you could have posted a counter argument to Arcy's review explaining in an intellectually enlightening manor how you felt Jeff's piece was operating in the show. You know add to the critical dialog and maybe maybe be more than one more sniveling anonymous whiner.

Posted by: jsmith [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 1, 2007 03:37 PM

hilarious,

Out of context quotes without the preceeding discussion of "articulating boundaries" is a useless paper tiger.

Anybody who resorts to such amatuer level tactics and suggestions about another person's educational experience is as JSmith suggests, an axe grinder.

Effective rhetorical moves don't reach so far that they topple over.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 1, 2007 04:50 PM

Sorry for the delay in my response. When I travel I don’t have time to deal with this kind of thing. It seems best to deal with the responses individually.

Jeff: “I give him a platform to be heard and help to compensate him for it a tiny bit”- you just made my point for me. You provide the forum, you pay him, he wrote about your work. In other fields that’s called An Inside Job.

Arcy: thank you for taking the time to write such a long and thoughtful response. I absolutely don’t have any problems with the ideas in your original review, but I disagree with you about conflict of interest. You could swear on a stack of Bibles that you don't have any bias as a result of your professional relationship with PORT, but that would be neither here nor there. You also state that although there were some PORT people in the exhibition, most of the artists were not associated with PORT. Then why write about the PORT artists? Clearly there was plenty of food for thought in the show, and one need not write a review that includes every single artist in a group show. The Mercury review was not “incomplete”, it just talked about the work that John Motley (for better or worse) felt worthy of discussion. There’s nothing wrong with only addressing work that resonates with you, and ignoring the rest.

The idea of overlooking other shows is a concern, but I share your frustration of limited time and means. One cannot be everywhere at once. But by choosing to take spend your time and energy on a show where there was a conflict of interest, you turned your back on any number of other shows that might have contained ideas you found worthy of discussion. And I, for one, won’t be able to read your reviews without wondering if you are strongly connected any of the artist(s) in the exhibition. And that really sucks (to use the modern parlance), because I think Portland really needs a reliable source of untainted information regarding the exhibitions and other news in our community.

Calvin Ross Carl: Please read more carefully. I already addressed your question about the possibility of a negative review in my second posting, in the sixth point. Your final comment about the show itself is irrelevant. We are not discussing the exhibition, but the review. It would be helpful if you paid attention if you want to contribute more than sycophantic remarks to the conversation.

Jsmith: Although your comments are not directed at me, I would like to clarify that I am not grinding an axe. Call me hopelessly naïve, but I believe that a forward-thinking community like Portland has the right to demand high standards, especially from an arts resource that purports to expect those same high standards from the artists it discusses. A more simple way of explaining this would be to say that sometimes it seems like PORT dishes it out, but can’t take it.

Truly, I did not expect, after my initial posting, for the mea culpas to flow. But I did hope that everyone would pause for a moment (as Arcy clearly did) before typing out aggrieved responses. Jeff, I realize I am basically asking for change, and that of course that would make you defensive and angry. But, as you do, I really believe in asking people for more, challenging them to produce their best. Saying that PORT doesn't produce reviews (only "peer reviews") or that the writers are not journalists ergo PORT doesn't have to follow rules governing journalistic ethics, is like Dick Cheney asserting that the Vice Presidency is not a part of the executive branch and therefore not bound to presidential order: sloppy, self-serving, and untenable.

If PORT becomes a reliable resource for information on the arts in Portland, we all win. Integrity, credibility, and ethics are things that still count, even on the internet.

Here is something that anyone following the discussion may want to read: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
Or contact these folks, and they’ll tell you all about it: http://www.aica-int.org/

Posted by: bigcity [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 2, 2007 12:25 PM

Hi Big City,

I am glad that you took the time to respond to my post. I looked at the code of ethics from the Society of Professional Jounalists. I do not think I would fit the definition professional journalist and I do not even think I would qualify to join their society. I am not writing for a newspaper, working for CNN or the Nightly News, but if you insist on holding me to the standards after the fact that is up to you.

Under Acting Independently the very first one is "Avoid Conflict of Interests, Real or Perceived". In this case I think that we are in the territory of a perceived conflict of interest. What should we do about it if it was unavoidable?

Further down the list (Still under Acting Independently) it says "Disclose Unavoideable Conflicts".

In my article I wrote "You start off looking at (PORT writer/cofounder) Jeff Jahn's piece Where We Go from Here."

A little further down I wrote "(PORT staffer) Jenene Nagy's Meadow is a striking example of pushing back out of the space of the gallery."

In both case the conflict of interest was disclosed which is what the Code of Ethics reccommends. I wrote that they were both involved with PORT. That is FULL DISCLOSURE. Since that is the first sentence in each paragraph, any reader is invited to stop there if they wish but I have openly and honestly desribed the association between myself and that artist. There is no mystery or hiding behind aliases. I came right out and wrote it.

That is why there is a policy on PORT to disclose these sorts of things when writing reviews.

A little further down, you might find these useful: "Admit mistakes and correct them promptly" and last but not least "Abide by the Same High Standards to which they hold others."

Although the situation was far from ideal, by disclosing my association with the artists I handled the perceived conflict of interest the best way I could. Also in my review, it was more or less description of the ideas involved with the way the artist relates their work to the wall. By elaborating on these ideas, I made the ideas accessible to everyone.

The perceived conflict of interest was addressed openly and honestly. I think my credibility has survived intact. This is such a strange coversation to be having with someone that insists on attacking me personally and my credibility from behind an annonymous alias.

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 2, 2007 02:34 PM

Well put Arcy,

PORT has already proven itself extremely reliable and it is part of the reason our reviews hold so much weight (aka the reason Big City cares). We earned our large readership, it is hardly an accident.

I suspect BigCity's parochial concerns have put them in a place where they are simply incapable of hearing the truth. We have disclosed fully and what is more there has been no charge that PORT staffer's works were treated any differently than the other artists in the show. This speaks volumes of your careful ethical considerations.

Big City please note these other situations:

The Portland Tribune routinely covers the actions of its owner Robert Pamplin by simply providing full disclosure. They do a good job of reporting on issues involving him fairly.

The Oregonian covered Randy Gragg's Core Sample project extensively in 2003 when he was still with the paper. A simple disclosure was made, end of story.

Jon Raymond recently has written reviews and articles on Storm Tharp in Art Forum and Modern Painters though he is �admittedly� a close friend. There is nothing wrong with this, and good on you Jon. Writers go to bat for artists they deem worthy of greater attention.

The Willamette Week routinely covers its own music fest as well as the bands it invites to it.

The NewYork Times routinely reviews books by its own writers, including Michael Kimmelman.

So Big City... you never had a leg to stand on. If one were to adhere to the incredibly rigid parochial rules you laid out earlier it would hobble most publications ability to provide meaningful coverage and it is precisely why PORT can provide such reliable and in depth coverage.

We aren't a newspaper but we have our own very serious ethical compass, in some ways it is superior because we have to answer more directly to our readers.

Also Big City... for someone who hides behind an alias, do I detect an artist whom Arcy chose not to mention in one of his recent reviews? ...as I strongly suspect.

What other motivations might you have? This intractability you prsent suggests the presence of an unreasonable ideologue. Thus, I'm shutting down these comments, weve answered all of your questions and I dont see where providing you a forum for unsubstantiated witch hunt warrants any more consideration.

As for PORT, we will continue to provide excellent reviews and other information that our readers can trust. There is a reason the site has become noteworthy both locally and internationally. We take what we do seriously enough to put our names on it.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 2, 2007 04:27 PM

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