The opening of China Design Now ushered in a new era for the Portland Art Museum, one where design and an eye on the future join the museum's extensive and longstanding displays of China's past. It's the only West Coast stop for this show. As THE social event of 2009 the Patron Preview last Friday showed Portland's engagement as a globally active design city and open minded host. It's an important show for PAM and Portland on all levels (business, cultural relevancy, patron education) and for the simple fact that it's the first really big traveling contemporary show to hit the city in half a decade. After two viewings I'd characterize the China Design Now exhibition as a dense, rich experience... one that curious minds and design fans will need to visit several times to digest effectively. It's just so sweeping, yet full of details that I've yet to process fully and will be back. -jj
China Design Now patron preview event at Portland Art Museum
Photography by Sarah Henderson - www.sirenapictures.com
A massive video screen with flyovers of Beijing Shenzhen and Shanghai
PAM Director/curator of CDN, Brian Ferriso, and Amy Pellegrin
Posters from the special economic zone in Southern China
Karen and Harry Groth
Eye catching garments and display elements from China
Gallerist Jane Beebe and her son, Sam
Bonnie Serkin and Will Emery
Left to right: PORT's Jeff Jahn, Brad Cloepfil, Brad Johnson and Jeffrey Thomas
Big toys by Pole Design
Hallway lined with magazine covers
Plan of Beijing's Olympic Village and photos of Beijing
Model of Rem Koolhaas' CCTV tower
Model of Herzog and De Meuron's "Bird Nest" stadium
Elizabeth Blades of Ziba Design being interviewed-- the exhibition designer for the Portland version of CDN
Jilliane Rabe models surrounding PORT's Alex Rauch
Stunning party favors for Chinese guests and Portland patrons
Human statuary, of Jillian Rabe, modeling Chinese fashions
Some words about China
Aerial dance by Pendulum Aerial Dance
I found it interesting that the press was issued Chinese food take-out boxes, and that free chopsticks were being used to entice people to become members. It struck me as being incongruous, seeing as the show is ostensibly about breaking free of the stereotypes we have of Chinese culture.
As for the show itself, I can't decide if it reminds me more of a Convention Center trade show or a trip to the mall. China Design Now? LA Design 1999 is more like it. (the show itself was put together five years ago, making the "now" part a little disingenuous.) And don't even get me started on the travel agency propaganda film playing in the red lobby. (P.S. About that red? Yes, we get it. We really, really get it.)
Those are some important considerations;
Nowness: First off, though this show was being organized 5 years ago it has been updated before each of its three showings. The Portland version is different from the V & A etc. Also, some of the main attractions like the CCTV tower have only been completed within the past month. The Portland presentation is less of a designer dance off than previous versions because they used only 1 designer, not 3 for 3 separate cities.
"Now" is certainly a relative term. Is it Now to a design professional or Now to a 3rd grade teacher? So, though somewhat like a trade show CDN is designed to connect to both the non design community and the design community... that means the context of Nowness required a sweeping historic documentation of how China moved away from the familiar maoist era/style images. The show tells a story rather than exhibit the raw hustle of a trade show. Thus, there is a historical component and some of the works date back to the mid 90's. A design professional would likely get their most up to the minute info outside of a museum's walls... but as a survey of design it is indicative of the new China in flux. Besides, seeing the real thing is very different from a blog post. For many Portlanders the newest China Design Now is what they are working on in their office right now.
Chinese Take Out: Yes the press packet was a mini take out box but instead of an old school folder it contained a jump drive (manufactured in China). It's a cheeky metaphor but press kits for a show like this need to connect to both in depth trade publications AND generalist publicatons. It was a fun idea and Im glad I dont have yet another folder made from dead trees that I have to deal with.
Red: of course you gotta have red... but there are other colors. What about the greens and blues that you can see from the photos above?
The opening looked fun, wish I could have stayed longed. Alex will review this when he's ready, there's no rush for us at PORT. For me CDN is just an opportunity to engage a favorite subject and learn something new. It is also a welcome update to the museum's outlook. Im over having to go other places to see major contemporary/traveling shows. Coming up Disquieted should be a great programmatic follow through in the Ferisso direction change (Bruce has been working on that show years).
It takes 2-3 years to get through previous museum commitments when a new director takes over.