Before I moved to Portland, just over a decade ago I was most familiar with one
gallery, Laura Russo
her association with Mel Katz
, Robert Colescott
and Gregory Grenon. They were
the only Portland connected artists I was aware of from Midwest.
A lot has already been said about her sad passing too soon... a process that will continue for a
long time to come, but as I type this (several thousand miles from Portland) I
feel certain of her influence. She mattered so much to so many, but I'd like to
state something specific and personal on why... and maybe how we can all be better
when we discuss art in Portland as a large part of her legacy.
Sure, besides art we would talk about the landscape, a certain hike, the Portland
ethos, etc.. but what really struck me about Laura Russo was the way she gave
a sense of dignity to the art and artists she represented. She really seemed to
care for the way an artist was taken seriously and we would often discussed the
underrated gems and how the thread of their work was woven into the world.
Unlike many dealers she never pushed the discussion towards a piece that wasn't
really fully in possession of its own quality. Her presence never distracted
from my contemplation of the work in her gallery either, which is to say
has many facets. In a way the operative dignity she conducted both herself and her
gallery with was very much THE epitome of the Portland ethos.
Art dealers are a rare and generally endangered breed; especially those like Russo who
are trusted completely by artists and collectors alike. Dealers like her are
even more special because they take the slippery world of art and give everyone
a sense of continuity
its akin to taking quicksand and turning it into
land one could build a house upon. When someone walked into her gallery one understood that artists have loved Portland for quite some time... even
if Portland hadn't always loved them back. In lieu of popular recognition that
dignity is key. In some cases Russo made artist's names familiar to all Portlanders, not just the scene.
Another example of her success, all of the artists in her stable were regularly presented
in shows, even those who are no longer with us. This is key, since art lives
by it's presentation. In that sense she created a greater sense of continuity.
This continuity even showed how the late career artists of today were also once
oh so young and fresh faced
in other words the beat goes on and I never
sensed age mattered to her thinking. Thus, what was special about Laura was
how seriously she stood beside an artist whether she had shown them their entire
career or if she had just picked them up. Unlike most art dealers, there just wasn't
a fickle impulse in the way she conducted business.
Another thing I appreciated, she wouldn't let an artist overhang a show and
she'd never shy away from showing a lot of large scale, "statement"
works instead of a lot of smaller
allegedly "more saleable"
works. In general, Laura's shows always had coherence and a complete lack of
second guessing and I never felt the overactive hand of a dealer or artist
hamstringing a show. The next time I see something like that I'll miss her even
Thank you Laura Russo for having the courage and conduct to show how to truly
represent an artist
may you be remembered best through the art, gallery and artists to whom you gave so much...
There will be a memorial for Laura Russo at The Portland Art Museum on Wednesday, Feb 17th at 3:00PM in the Sunken Ballroom and thankfully the gallery will continue on under her name.
I'd include to your comment about continuity that Laura's gallery was my favorite place to learn about northwest regional artists and history. Ironically, more so than the Portland Art Museum. I think this speaks to both Laura's regional historic commitment, but also to, dare I say taste. To take nothing away from the amazing artists and galleries all over Portland, there was a certain, almost quaint now, refinement I felt when ever I walked in her gallery.
One other thing I appreciated is all of her galleries inventory seemed accessible. I never feel uncomfortable poking through the works not hung in the latest show.
I cherish the deeper appreciation for the arts and artists of this region that Laura Russo and her gallery quietly instilled in me. I wish her staff well in carrying on and evolving the beautiful vision Laura created.