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Monday 02.02.09

« Video | Main | First Thursday Picks February 2009 »

Linked up

Tyler Green has a great recap of the whole Brandeis situation as well as a pointing out Harvard Art Museum Director Tom Lentz's interesting interview in the Boston Globe. Seems like Harvard isn't trying to get all LACMA and try to collect the Rose's collection, obviously Tom Lentz is a class act.

Yes the Brandeis story has hit the New York Times and Roberta Smith comes out swinging. To corroborate her condemnation... I'm a direct product of universities who had nice art galleries and museums like UW Madison's Elviehjem (now the Chasen), ISU's galleries (which exposed me to serious contemporary art), IWU's Merwin & Wakeley galleries, Eccles Museum at USU (where I learned to love H.C. Westerman). Smith is right to point out Brandeis' myopia towards the teaching value of such an institution at a liberal arts university.

Oh and its isn't merely fear that has tongues wagging about the planned PNCA/MoCC merger as Barry Johnson at the O claims, it's very real "institutional culture" head scratcher. PORT pointed out some very real best practices issues over separation of institutions, autonomy and the differences between Museums and Universities... all now highlighted further by the Brandeis' decision. At least the O is now raising some questions, but to date PORT is the only place that has really looked at the organizational delicacy of the situation and like any merger the devil is in the details. C'mon, if Christopher Knight worked at the O he'd be all over this and it's part of the reason Portland institutions have problems... our arts coverage of institutional intricacies is weak (mostly it is just some reporting and little analysis... even when there is research, it isn't contextualized or given simple cautionary case study comparisons... cough, Brandeis, cough).

Paul Goldberger looks at Diller Scofidio + Renfro renovation of Pietro Belluschi's Alice Tully Hall. Belluschi, who lived in Portland during his early-mid career was architect of the Equitable building, PAM and Big Pink's "pink"skin. Portland Architecture also has something to say about this renovation. It all reminds me of some things Arun Jain has said about promoting layers of the built environment as a kind of civic corrugation. Completely erasing the old with the new isn't always as good a co-opting and recontextualizing the past for use in the present, it's akin to sampling in music but it has a civic effect that is unique to architectural design. The U of O's White Stag Building is a great newer example in Portland, walking through that building (which I do a lot these days) is basically architectural archaeology.

Also, The O just ran an insightful review by Brian Libby of a show PORT staffers wont review, Laura Fritz's Evident. (disclosure 3 PORT staffers including myself worked on the show, etc) Evident also received the only full January reviews by the shrinking weeklies Willamette Week and Portland Mercury as well as NY Arts Magazine and Minus Space's attention. We do what we can here at PORT, but she's never been hurting for critical response.

Last but not least, The Oregonian looks at the financial health of major Portland arts institutions, so far so good besides the Museum of Contemporary Craft (and their problems were in effect before September, where was the endowment campaign?). Still the O is definitely on schadenfreude institutional death watch, because bad news sells papers and papers are pretty thin these days. Analysis, it is noticeable how The Portland Art Museum's endowment is only down 11% (info as of June 30th so it's likely down more now). Still that means Ferriso era PAM saw the economic crisis coming and PORT noticed it because we aren't in the schadenfreude business. Inverse analysis, it is interesting that the O keeps wondering about quiet shows like Wild Beauty when attendance is only down 17% while (the important figure here) revenue is down 37% ... that means other revenue streams like the ballroom rentals, gift shop, membership dues and the rental sales gallery have been less productive or the endowments are picking up some of the slack (as we know now the recession was already in effect 1st half of 2008). The museum's transition from blockbusters to sustainable endowments is working but that means tightening the belt during the transition.

Besides, blockbuster shows would have been a bad move in a serious recession like this. Furthermore the museum was pretty bustling during Wild Beauty and I often had trouble seeing the show. Also, I suspect the art access educational endowments that allow school children to visit the museum are buoying up attendance figures too. The lesson... endowments are the real hedge funds! The report also shows that most everyone is hurting (even some PORT sponsorships) but the best way to survive is to run lean. Needless to say nobody is buying a private jet.

*Update: Portland Arts Watch, jumps out of their foxhole with their pants on fire while declaring victory here? Look, Christopher Knight's overall acuity is completely appropriate comparison as is Brandeis... different of course but appropriate. To counter, Barry...you are dead wrong to not see a connection, both are cautionary tales. One of Knight's spot on targets was an attempted institution merger with MOCA and LACMA, the Brandeis one is of delicate checks and balances not being respected. (readers: Barry and I are playing paintball here, not with real grenades, that's for the respective boards) Two words Barry, "Best Practices" for museums and universities are very different and very difficult to reconcile, it isn't something to gloss over. Everything must be looked at and how about the relationship of the Henry to the UW in Seattle? That is a successful case study I mentioned.

Of course this is just a bit of banter in service of the real issue, "what is best for Portland, MoCC and PNCA?" We like Barry (and he knows what we are up to), but judging from the kind of continuing hits we get from our initial report on this merger issue PORT hit on something very important. Ours is just a professional opinion and it's really up to the two respective boards (both filled with personal friends I care about)... We'd just like the O to ask the tough questions too... nobody owns a good question and there are many more to ask.

How about, Where Is Sam? I suspect saving a 70 year old institution (merged or autonomous) might be something the Mayor should be interested in, besides it beats that other controversy. Overall the level of analysis need to go way beyond the, "seems willing" level.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on February 02, 2009 at 14:06 | Comments (2)


Everything is hurting and I don't think we're close to bottoming out. Lots of newspapers will be closing shop, I suspect, and more blogs poking their heads.

Posted by: Ryan Fish [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 3, 2009 01:46 AM

It's really a shame about the newspaper industry. I dont think they have treated their greatest asset, "their writers" ...well at all.

By constantly cutting corners and consolidating departments they have lost a lot of their most important voices. This is especially true in criticism. On a Local level Portland no longer has a full time architecture and design critic at the so-called paper of record. It is just short sighted.... and mind you this isnt the writers fault at all, it's the shareholders of these privately held corporations (ie they dont have publicly traded shares).

The often outside of town companies that own our nations newspapers don't have the same local investment they once had. I think that's the real problem. Newspapers used to be the local experts owned by impassioned people concerned about where they lived... now it's some weird broken business model.

PORT isn't a normal blog... but we aren't employing people full time either. We are essentially a trade publication interested in peer review... yet, I still think we need daily generalist news sources but nobody is really stepping up.

To "step up" means, trying to have best and brightest information and analyis (words like "journalist" or "historian" are empty unless the quality of informationa and analysis is there). Whomever can provide a daily news steam of features along with critical review of food, architecture & design, movies, music, lierature and art... as well as human interest and civics will be the new model. Could the few remaining newspaper writers go all Norma Rae and do this themselves? possibly... Personally, I'm mostly interested in art and design so it wont be me (I have a deep fondness for moving real objects around rooms too), but I can see how other writers could take control of the situation.

A while back Geffen and Broad were trying to buy the LA Times... those two could conceivably make their own publication that would replace newspapers... if they wanted to. But right now I think everyone is in the watch and wait position.

The dumbing down of our nation's news sources is a huge problem and yes some blogs are filling the gap... but it takes a while to suss out who is serious and who isn't, not everyone has that kind of time.

For example, I know PORT is pretty popular with doctors in Portland... they often can't get out to openings and have demanding scheduals so they really need to plan where to go.... PORT publishes a lot of images with our text so it's good recon.

Everybody's time is at a premium so expertise matters more than ever... at the same time newspapers are divesting themselves of trusted long term voices.

Maybe the part that has to change about America is our somewhat short sighted anti-intellectual stance. Obama's election is a good indicator of a real change in that department.

I wish the newspapers luck but they are in one of those scary death spirals and the writers dont control their own fates at all.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 3, 2009 09:53 AM

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