Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Diane Jacobs' Homage at Weiden + Kennedy
Painting Links
Weekend Picks
Weekend Picks
Emily Nachison on Odilon Redon at PAM
Weekend Links
First Thursday Picks May 2016
Reed College Art Theft
Bonnie Bronson and Mary Henry
Artist Opportunities
Monday Links
PICA has new 16,000ft home

recent comments



Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Openings & Events
About PORT

regular contributors


Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman



Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us


Contact us






powered by


Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a


Creative Commons License

Thursday 04.23.09

« On Museums and Users | Main | mp5+pmmnls »

Portland and Place

My second response to the meeting last night about the integration of the Museum of Contemporary Craft and Pacific Northwest College Craft (PNCA) was that art institutions should consider becoming more specific rather than more general in regards to their programming. It might seem counter-intuitive but there is a term used in retailing called "death in the middle". The term suggests that the way that most people shop for things today is very selective and generally at either the top end or the low end with rarely anything in the middle. The result is that one might see a $500 hand bag being carried by a person wearing a $5 shirt. Either someone really wants something and is willing to invest in it or they need it but are not really emotionally attached to it and therefore it should be as cheap as possible. In other words this is a good market for stores that sells things at the upper end that might be expensive and at the very low end where things are inexpensive, but for the stores in the middle, like department stores that try to be everything to everybody, it is a very difficult time. Just to be clear, these analogies are about the relative price of goods, and maybe the emotional attachments to some products, not indicator of friendliness or approachability. These stores are equally accessible to anyone. It is a good example that we all live in extremes, and that a general audience does not even really exist.

Since museums are not commercial stores, I think that the analogy is slightly different. For museums, I think that the questions become to what degree do they become specialists verus generalists. A similar question would be to what extent could a museum provide a unique and direct connection to the community and city that would be irreparably damaged if that institution would move to another city and a different institution were to take its place? For me this has to go deeper than just the collection, as we know with all of the travelling exhibitions, objects travel really well and objects made during one specific place in time might be relevant to a much later time in a different part of the world. Ideally, the connection would be so strong to place that it would be impossible for those institutions to function somewhere else.

A good example might be the Rothko Chapel. In a funny way, the Rothko Chapel would have only been possible in Houston. Even though Rothko was living at the time in New York, it would have been hard to imagine a project like that in the New York. Perhaps it would have been impossible to integrate a program like the Rothko chapel into any of the museum's programming and the possibility of it existing on its own was so outlandish as to not be considered. As we know, the De Menil's did make it possible in Houston. On a personal level, I am glad that the Rothko Chapel, and the Menil Collection, exist in Houston and I am very willing to travel to see them.

I would view the Rothko Chapel as a very specialized experience. It is not about the whole history of art, okay, part of it is, but people come in and make their own experience. Either it moves them or does not and either way it is without judgment like the old adage about Jazz. The important thing is that the De Menil's were willing to risk exposing people to a unique, personalized experience of art that is the antithesis of most experiences of art at museums. The pay off for the risk of exposing a potentially specialized experience to a general audience is that for a few of those visitors the experience might change their life. Even though I experienced the Chapel later in life, I would count myself as one of those people. Why would the Menil's do such a thing? It is simple, they believed in art.

I do not think that we need Rothko Chapels in every city but I do believe that we need specialized art experiences in every city. These experiences could exist within museums or outside of it. Unfortunately the specialized experience seems at odds with the way that some curators view the programming in their spaces. These specialized experiences should be as unique to the city as possible which means they should be created by local artists that are up to the task. The Menils believed that the best art was universal and that its value would be self evident to any viewer that could open themselves to the experience.

I left the discussion at PNCA with a deeper understanding of my own practice and why I go out of my way to visit places that will inform my experience. Portland has a wonderful art history that we rarely take advantage of. When I wrote about Donald Judd last year, it was about his work at the PCVA, which by looking at the slides, was a specialized art experience if there was ever one. I was interested in the way that an artist from outside Oregon would interact with the city and its resources. I am currently doing research on Mark Rothko's time here and how his experiences in Portland might have been carried with him when he left the city. In both cases, I have tried to see the city through their eyes. I now realize that at least on some level, these are ways in which I have been trying to come to terms with Portland as place.

Posted by Arcy Douglass on April 23, 2009 at 15:48 | Comments (0)


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee