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Thursday 08.30.07

« Ursula von Rydingsvard opens at PAM | Main | Cooley Gallery Reopening »

Up at the PAMtation: Portland Art Museum continues to redirect itself

The Portland Art Museum has leaked a smidgen of their major programming for the coming years but the best stuff isn't on the list. There are lots of gaps and omissions, including a major contemporary retrospective (it is too early to be discussed yet, curated by Bruce Guenther)... so calling this lineup a more "regional" focus as the O does misses the mark. Especially considering recent acquisitions they failed to note and the lineup for the ongoing Miller-Meigs series which are not listed (other question is why does the O seem to want PAM to become so regional or isolationist?). Don't worry that isn't happening, the museum is easilly becoming more internationally relevant, while still being more serious about addressing the regional.

*Update here's a quote from Ferriso: "Our goal in developing this series has been to harness the intellectual and physical assets of the Museum and community to stimulate interest and dialogue around key global issues: past, present, and future. ....This series includes large-scale international exhibitions, some conceived at other institutions, but the majority developed through the scholarship of our own curators."

From outside Portland Tyler Green is loving this anti-bombastic, non-Krensian turn at the museum and let's hope this Portland trend will sweep the nation. The list below came out from fundraising efforts and is not as an exhaustive list (disclosure I am VP of the Contemporary Art Council at PAM).

Short history lesson:

Since the mid 90's Portland had languished with the Portland Art Museum first being in peril of not existing (saved by John Buchanan and Co.) only to turn into a somewhat detached enclave for francophile and traveling blockbuster shows (also under Buchanan). This created a cultural vacuum at the top, leaving many patrons bemused or uninvolved in the vibrant visual arts fabric here. It is also why Portland's other visual art institutions are all either very young, completely confused or have only recently gotten their acts together (PNCA, Reed)... our anchor institution, PAM, was harbored in France (and not the modern one either).

This all started to change when in 2000 Tracy Savage managed to secure the Clement Greenberg collection for the Museum with funds and foresight from Tom and Gretchen Holce, which then forced the building of the Mark wing and Jubitz Center for Contemporary Art. This also lead to the Miller-Meigs series of shows (Roxy Payne, Sophie Calle, Pierre Huyghe, Hirst and next up Ursula von Rydingsvard.

After Buchanan left for San Francisco in 2005 (there was practically dancing in the streets by the contemporary art crowd) the museum chose to de-Buchananize itself and picked a low key intellectually focused director and for once PAM is at the lead of a new national trend, the anti-blockbuster & curatorially driven museum. The new director Brian Ferriso has done several Q&A's in town on this already. Considering results like Wes Mills and Camouflage the new curatorial focus has been a huge boon.

Now to further gage the shift here there is this incomplete list for PAM which includes:

Feb 2- May 11 2008 The Dancer, 110 works on paper by Edgar Degas, Jean-Louis Forain and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec regarding dance. This will have cross promotions with Oregon Ballet Theater. Ok OK it is dead French art but at least it is focused and doesn't use the word "masterpieces" or "triumph" without delivering several examples (ala JB). Maybe the ballet and impressionist art crowds can reinvigorate the discussion of what was once was cutting edge culture. Instead of gold frames this show of drawings will emphasize the cross pollination between art forms. I'm a big fan of Degas' pastels and the kind of moody dread they barely conceal, as any big Baudelaire fan would so I'm excited by this scholarly show.

June 14- Sept 7th 2008 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, inaugural of the replacement for the Oregon Biennial, if it doesn't challenge the viewers in cutting edge way it will fail the city and we will insist that the word "Contemporary" be replaced with "Banal". The CNAA was introduced with a reference to the SECA awards so that is what it will be measured against. I don't think Gately will go the the banal route, she seems to have a strong commitment to important contemporary art, even when it is local.

May 31-Sept 7th 2008 Klaus Moje Retrospective... an Australian glass artist. It will be interesting how PAM and The Museum of Contemporary Craft might overlap and compare.

Oct 4th- Jan 11th Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867-1957, charts the photographic transformation of the Columbia River Gorge.

Feb 15- May 15th 2009 French Painting in the Age of Madame de Pompadour," .... UGH French paintings, I have seen too much of this in the past 8 years! This is a Buchanan era holdover but these are coming to an end: as the Oregonian reported, consulting curator Penelope Hunter-Stieble's services will be taken over by an in house curator. It's time.

October 3rd 2009 - Jan 10th 2010 PNCA at 100, a historical survey of the Pacific Northwest College of Art, which used to be the Museum school... so it's kinda like a family reunion of once-conjoined twins.

Winter 2009 Contemporary Survey, an international contemporary art survey. Look I'm a double agent, I can't say anything more on this but what Bruce is thinking of isnt just some ad hoc "contemporary trends" sampler, there is an intellectual relevance to this and it fits in well with the museum's collections too.

Spring 2010 China Design Now, a traveling from the Victoria and Albert Museum, more info here. This indicates a more contemporary turn for our newly hired asian curator. Very cool.

Obviously its a huge departure from the relentless onslaught of gilded bauble and second rate French old master shows we were subjected to under John Buchanan and as we have heard from the new director Brian Ferriso for 10 months now the museum is going away from blockbusters and more towards intellectually responsible programming.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 30, 2007 at 18:42 | Comments (5)


Thanks for the quick history -- very helpful to relative newcomers to Portland. Glad I missed the Buchanan era, I guess. Would love to see fewer blockbusters (like that Egypt thing) and more cutting edge contemporary art at PAM. Not to be isolationist, but I do hope the museum offers opportunities for top local and regional artists as well as an international focus.

Posted by: brett [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2007 02:55 AM

I would love to see more contemporary (living) artist showing at PAM. Working in all styles. Traditional painting still has new things to say. The discipline is still very different than the mixed media or installation artist, outside of idea generation. I enjoy the variety but crave to see paint because I am a painter. I also agree with Brett I hope there are opportunities for local artists. Although it is interesting to see what is happening international, to focus solely on that would create repetition and less opportunity for a variety of voices to be heard.

Posted by: elle4 [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2007 12:48 PM


Nice recap. And thank you for mentioning Tracy Savage. Her space on 12th(?) across from the Gregory was as modern and contemporary of a space as anything I'd seen in Portland to that point. A real planting of the flag in the Pearl district.

The ice-cool, brightly lit space was almost blinding, and it really seemed to push gallery venues to the next level in Portland.

Unfortunately, the art never seemed to live up to the venue. Except for a Ted Savinar piece (a geneology of wearing black in modern culture) and the Chihuly chandelier hanging in her office, most seemed well presented but light on substance. And when I walked in one day and saw William Wegman on the walls, I knew the end was near.

Too bad the space didn't last but I admired her gumption and boldness. I feel she definitely played a part in pushing Portland further.

Doesn't tie in exactly to your museum post, but appreciate the opportunity to comment.

Take care.

Posted by: Sean Casey [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2007 01:40 PM

Ooo! Ooo! Isn't Eric Fischl due for a mid-career retrospective? Let's get that!

Posted by: graves [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2007 01:43 PM

Sean... you are right... in fact no space in Portland has yet risen to present such high expectations as Tracy did. Bryan Hunt's opening show in the back room there was awe inspiring in a way that competed with Gagosian shows.

I felt Heidi Schwegler also did a good job in the big back room too.

Also, Eric Fischl isnt it... I'm not gonna play 20 questions but it is someone bigger than that.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 31, 2007 03:51 PM

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