PAM's Executive Director Brian Ferriso
This January marks the one year anniversary for the Portland Art Museum's new
director, Brian Ferriso. As arguably holding the most important cultural position in Oregon,
Ferriso's actions have far reaching implications and set expectations both within the
museum and the rest of the state's philanthropic/artistic community. It is time for an annual checkup.
(disclosure: Im VP of the Contemporary Art Council at PAM and PAM is a PORT sponsor)
The Ferriso effect:
For contrast, John Buchannan, Ferriso's predecessor was a successful and aggressive entrepreneurial
promoter (but questionable as a connoisseur), and for years many other organizations
followed his lead, putting hype ahead of content. Lately, Portlanders have
grown tired of the "constant PR" type leaders as purveyors of empty cultural calories.
[*Note to our so-called journalists, coverage should focus on qualifications of leaders and the quality of shows (aka
the only results that matter) not grandiose promises and PR glosses over inferior
programming simply designed to produce attendance.] In fact, the first thing Ferriso did was cool down the board who
wanted to build on the new property PAM had acquired so he could focus on solidifying
the museum's fundamentals like its; endowment, collections and programming tuned
to Portland's needs (more contemporary with a bustling arts scene). He's also
empowered his curators and that's good for deeping PAM's intellectual relevance.
Ferriso is the antithesis of PR showman and has received some
national attention for not being a Thomas Krens clone
. Instead, he's refreshingly
focused and content oriented. For example, he canned the meatmarket Museum After-Hours
series because it wasn't making the museum any money and wasn't directly related
to the museum's core mission of presenting art.
Herzog & de Meuron's Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics
Though he's far from perfect
(the museum still hasn't had a major contemporary art show)...but the China
Design Now exhibit this summer
should finally give Portland's army of designers
a reason to care about the museum. Ferriso and I discussed the need for a design
oriented exhibition the first time we had lunch last year and I think he found
a really great show as it features a model of Herzog
& de Meuron's "Birds Nest" Olympic stadium
CCTV building etc. Let's have Rem Koolhaas
(the master of contradictory spatial/social thinking) do a lecture...I wonder what
the hell he'd think of the Jubitz Center?).
That China Design Now show was no accident, Ferriso's a design guy who worked
with Calatrava when at the Milwaukee Art Museum. In person Ferriso's shown himself
to be very knowledgeable and articulate about art and as a business person tends
towards very un-dramatic, solid and obvious/transparent financial decisions.
This sets a new standard in non profit competency while shifting the focus
from lavish gala parties and dramatic announcements to intellectually grounded
programming. For example, suddenly lots of small "dossier" shows culled
from the museum's collection (a majority of them contemporary like Rock
) have appeared. Even The
Dancer, which opens this weekend
, though French is very scholarly and devoted
to the cultural stew that helped break down 19th century class interactions making
way for our more modern "superflat" attitudes. The book's essays and illustrations point to a great show.
PAM's large and intellectually relevant catalogue for The Dancer
So, instead of pinning the future of the museum on the next blockbuster he's
focusing on the growing endowment and solid programming. Not exactly a sexy
move, but smart. Endowments free museums up to be more adventurous rather than chasing the funding. Also, according
to the AAMD's statistical survey of Art Museum's the Portland Art museum is
about the 27th largest in the nation (factoring in size and # of employees)
but ranks about 50th in terms of endowment with 49,000,000, which is slightly
behind the Whitney and the Museum of Contemporary Art Cincinnati but ahead of
the Des Moines Art Center (which frankly outclasses PAM as an art museum [in
terms of quality of; architecture, collection, collecting and engagement with
the community, it's no contest
so don't put down Des Moines]). Still the story here is PAM is underendowed, space-wise the Whitney is tiny compared to PAM as is the DAC. The plan
is simply to endow the curatorial positions. Currently (and surprisingly) only the
Curator of Northwest Art is endowed. Frankly, it's a great
way to raise endowment dollars as the positions should last as long as western civilization does. I suspect it will also allow PAM to make hard-working
and frankly ass-kicking curator of Photography Terry Toedtemeier full time too.
It also incentivises the museum to fill vacancies as endowed (restricted) monies
cant be applied towards other projects.
Some other interesting developments:
-the Rental Sales Gallery has moved out of gallery spaces into the glass condo
across street. Retail space replacing exhibition space is a bad thing and it's
smart to move it across the street into a retail building.
-the Museum has just recently set up planned giving. It's somewhat unbelievable
that the 7th oldest museum in the country hadn't been doing this all along (while
our public television station has). One suspects this will revolutionize top
end cultural funding in Oregon, and things like PNCA's 10 million dollar Hallie
Ford Bequest will become more common everywhere in the state. As the Big Kahuna
and the most stable large arts institution in the state a large percentage of
estate gift $$$'s will come their way.
-A new website is coming in February, though not a complete rebranding it will
bring PAM's website into the 21st Century and be more navigable.
-Acquisitions of A Rauschenberg, Van Gogh, Rembrandt etching, Judy Chicago,
Joe Goode and this just in; acquisitions of an Ursula von Rydingsvard drawing
as well as suite of Darren Waterston prints we reviewed at L&C college last
-re hang of the fourth floor northwest art galleries, no longer cramped it
breathes nicely. (nice work Jennifer Gately) Now if only the entire Jubitz Center
for Contemporary Art could be similarly rehung???
-Klaus Moje retrospective in May 2008 keeps the generalist PAM museum competitive
with the smaller more focused museum of contemporary crafts. A little professional
competition is good. I will pay to see Namita Wiggers and Bruce Guenther arm
-the Apex gallery is getting younger with a show by PORT's own Jenene
Nagy in February
. Let's face it, the Apex galleryspace is too small for
huge, super established artists like Chris Johanson and Roy McMakin and it was
a strange fit. It's a tiny project space and picking some up and comers is a
great way to liven up those 4th floor galleries and engage the community. Frankly
its way better than the old Oregon Biennial because it might really help artists
in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana reach up to the next rung. Good move.
Richard Deacon, Dead Leg (work in progress), 2007, Oak and stainless steel, 8 x 28 x 9 feet (2.4 x 8.5 x 2.7 m).
Copyright of the artist. Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA.
-the Miller Meigs space now boasts Turner
Prize winner Richard Deacon
. Will the O publish another idiotic
about this great space and series? P.S. Victoria Blake should be
asked to present her credentials as an art critic (there are some valid points
but if you attack a museum try not to resort to imbecile-level suggestions like
photo's of other shows, sheesh). PS. PORT staffers offer to tutor (for a fee).
I'm actually OK with everything else the O has put out in 2008 (so far) so yes
Victoria (someone whom I like personally), it was that bad. David has shaped
up lately... do you really want to carry the philistine torch? Yes, a bad review
is almost always better than a good one because they are more difficult to earn
but I prefer not to be utterly embarassed by what comes out.
-Announcement of a major contemporary art retrospective. Chief curator Bruce
Guenther is working on this and I wont spill the beans but as a matter of course
I have to point it out. We havnt had a major contemporary show since the UBS
Paine Weber art collection show in 2002 (that's too long and everyone, including
the art smart public, curators, etc. are keen to change this).
Northwest Art Awards
replaced the Oregon Biennial and though comprised of solid choices the announcement
created all the anticipation of frozen casserole waiting to be microwaved.
Neither Seattle nor Portland cared when the 5 solid but hardly radical or unexpected contestants were announced... so the hang has to challenge our assumptions. Dan
Attoe is the closest thing to cutting edge but his Slayer meets Northwest trees
and Jason Rhoades-lite neon already looks so 2003. Not to be unfair but had
Alex Schweder and Sean Healy been on the docket people would have cared. Of
course this might all be premature... surprise me.
-Jubitz Center for Contemporary Art. It's a cramped hang and I realize it's all there
to educate Portlanders as to what we have but can we have a serious rehang in
the next 2 years? The tight quarters actually exacerbate the bowling alley feeling of the galleroies and if left to breathe the building could speak better for itself. Long ago I realized people judge art (rightly or wrongly) by how it feels in the space it inhabits and a roomier hang would do wonders.
-Collection building, while we are at it, let's create an endowment for acquisitions.
The collection needs a major Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Basquiat, Johns, John Chamberlain
or Picasso. None are cheap, and one
collector in particular could make some of these happen. Ed Cauduro
many thanks go to Paige Powell
for the long-term loan the oddest and obviously
super personal Basquiat on the planet... a pink valentine of a painting with 2 monkies.
-Regular free days at the museum? It's true that an amazing amount of disrespectful
people damage art on free days
how about this lil' suggestion; send out
free (but funded) passes to existing members to share until an official free
day (with tons of security) can be funded.
All in all PAM is a big ship turning about as quickly as a big cultural institution
can but they will be judged on the quality of shows they present. That's where the attitude change
is most obvious, they now invite that kind of judgement. There is a lot to do in Portland so it is important that they stay focused even if are THE generalist art institution. It sets the expectaions and rhythm for the entire city. After 1 year they are definitley a better institution, serving Portland better at all levels but I think they are just one year into a five year shift.