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Monday 11.07.11

« 30 issues later... | Main | The Earth is not up to code? »

PICA's new HQ

When PICA announced last summer that they had received a $200,000 ArtPlace Grant I was cautiously skeptical they would fully leverage the opportunity of a medium sized, not huge grant. 200k does go fast when you get involved in civic buildings. I felt like they might just float between a couple moldering properties on the East Side of Portland, rather than take the responsibility of a full time presence in Portland more seriously. I love PICA but as a "burned" past supporter I'm hard on them. Think of me as the grumpy old uncle who loved them as a cute kid and beamed as they grew into adulthood (with their Pearl District gallery) but was publicly heartbroken when they decided to throw it all away and shirk responsibility back in 2004 when they stopped being a major full-time vis arts institution and became a festival with a vis art component. Ultimately in the intervening 7 years their vis arts program became less focused, with its series of provisional/compromised spaces and scattered attention during TBA festivals.

Unfinished space that is to be the new PICA HQ (photo Andrew Billing)

Well today, I'm less skeptical with announcement that they will indeed have a nice headquarters space at 415 SW 10th Ave. It is just down the street from Powell's and is described as a hub office, not merely a series of ever changing off site encampments (which they will also undertake). The permanent space does make PICA suddenly a lot more exciting. There is something more grown up about year round programming rather than living on borrowed space, which simply felt more noncommittal.

Why skeptical? Well, it's well documented that I (and a legion of others paying attention in the vis arts) felt that PICA has been treading water after they canceled their rather good visual arts gallery space in 2004 (designed by Brad Cloepfil/Allied Works). Since that moment, the vis arts program felt like an opportunistic inclusion to the TBA festival. But to give credit where due there were lots of good things like Jesse Hayward, Gray + Paulsen, Ethan Rose, Jesse Sugarmann, and Charles Atlas but there were even more iffy shows that simply felt like stunt art festival fodder that made each year look a lot like the previous one (videos of people doing mundane slightly dance like stuff... again and again). The previous program curated by Stuart Horodner, which featured artists like William Pope L., Rudolf Stingel, Jim Hodges and Dana Schutz was simply in another class and I refuse to forget this or stop reminding Portland of this inconvenient but hopefully motivational fact.

(*Note: PORT is a visual arts/design focused publication conceived during PICA's downscaling in 2004 so we are quite conscious of the performance/exhibition focus mix.)

In short ,the 2004-2011 program has been diluted and anonymized by hitting us with everything at once and it simply felt more juvenile and somewhat aprogrammatic compared to the tight and very professional 2001-2004 gallery period. It also became difficult to gage the institution's momentum... kinda like an adult who returns from college to live in their parent's basement (W+K's basement). Many, including myself, saw PICA as using the visual arts programming as a fundraiser for the performing arts portion... we "former" PICA supporters all felt the visual arts was a junior element of PICA's focus rather than a 50/50 split. We are fair and Kristan Kennedy has her own take (these two histories aren't really polar opposites).

Space looking NE (photo Andrew Billing)

But now there is some hope, for the first time in Victoria Frey's rather quiet 7 year career as director, PICA is moving forward by taking over the 3 floor and rooftop of 413 SW 10th ave. and the project promises to see PICA kick up their fundraising activity. The space itself will occupy nearly 10,000 sq feet 5900 indoor and 4000 outdoor patio. The space will be flexible enough to accommodate, "film screenings, dinners, publishing projects, conversations, and more." Let's hope they undertake visual arts exhibitions/projects as well. I think 3 tight shows + some events would go a very long way towards making PICA relevant to a visual arts scene which is already chock full of funky alternative spaces and would like a more grown up hub.

Also, whether they admit it or not the move is partly a response to YU's stuttering but potential presence upon the arts scene too.

PICA says, "This move to a new location will furthur develop the central hub office of PICA's hub and spoke practice, and initiate the first half of PICA's ArtPlace funded space project. PICA's offices will serve as a working laboratory for developing a new kind of art space that can adapt to ever-changing uses and provide a meeting place where artists and audiences can converge after our attending our events across town."

My hope is simply that PICA challenge Portland to expect more, because for quite a while key movers and a hoard of artists in Portland have wanted much more of PICA. As a loving but grumpy uncle, maybe this time everyone gets what they deserve?

Posted by Jeff Jahn on November 07, 2011 at 22:23 | Comments (1)


We're glad to hear you're as excited about our new space as we are. It holds a lot of potential, and marks another phase of our strategic plan, which we've been developing for the past three years, in concerted effort with Angela's hiring as Artistic Director. First-and-foremost, this space will serve as a working office for the staff, a place where we can accomplish the robust work it takes to produce the dozens of performances and exhibits we present each year.

Our current conversations about what it means to be a year-round presence in the community are wide-ranging, and a lot of our early thinking revolves around how we can deepen and extend the audience experience with TBA artists and projects. What does it mean to have artists in-residence with locals in advance of their Portland debut? How do you best build context around the ideas artists are deeply wrestling with?

Our view of contemporary practice is expansive and inclusive: we are not a "performance" presenter, nor a "visual art" center. We are a contemporary art institution, dedicated to presenting today's compelling artists, regardless of the disciplines they freely cross. You can not look at the trajectory of modern and contemporary visual practice since at least Ascona without acknowledging the strong tradition of performance "visual" art. Our visual artists are presented throughout the program of the Festival, not just in the galleries. At last year's TBA, we presented 12 solo installation projects at the high school, 1 visual artist-led stage show, 4 visual artists working in our "OUTSIDE" program, and five nights of visual art-based programs at THE WORKS. That is 22 projects rooted in a visual practice, out of the 40-odd shows staged during TBA--it's a full and diverse line-up. And while there is a certain community spectacle to the 10-day run of performances at the Festival, the visual galleries are open for an additional month-and-a-half for repeat visits, artist salons, quiet in-depth experiences, participatory workshops, and student tours. While the Festival is surely not the only viable model for presenting art, it does offer a lot of benefits, including the opportunity for adjacency, to view works side-by-side and draw unexpected parallels.

Space does not equate to success. We've seen this time and time-again in Portland, as facility-focused presenters have buckled under the overheads and constraints of a one-size-fits-all gallery. PICA is deeply committed to our model of roaming programming, and very proud of our accomplishments staging projects throughout town. Our 17-year history (including when we ran a fixed gallery space in the Pearl) has always relied on opportunity-based locations, in both senses of the word "opportunity." We've taken advantage of the opportunities of short-term leases on transitioning spaces, and we've tailored the gallery or theater space to each artist's vision, basing our presenting space on the opportunity inherent in their work.

To our way of thinking, space is an invitation, to our audiences, to our artists, to the city generally. Space does not stand in for programming, nor should it constrain it. Our new space will be a gathering place for these kinds of conversations, and we hope you'll join us in them.

Posted by: patrick [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2011 05:24 PM

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