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Friday 04.13.12

« Weekend Picks | Main | Monday Links »

PICA's new headquarters

PICA's new headquarters (opens tonight at 7:00) all photos Jeff Jahn

I'm burying the hatchet because this space gives me reason to believe in PICA again but first a little history. In 2004 PICA shuttered its once excellent visual art program, which under curator Stuart Horodner presented the likes of Janine Antoni, William Pope L. Dana Shutz, Melanie Manchot, Jim Hodges, Tony Tasset and Rudolf Stingel... and if that sounds like the most interesting nonprofit exhibition space north of San Francisco it is because it was. What's more the space was large but not unwieldy space designed by Brad Cloepfil, long before he became a major museum architect and it instantly gave Portland an identity as a up and coming art city. Part of the reason I moved here in 1999 was because I knew it was going to open in 2000.

Thus, when then PICA boss Kristy Edmunds chose to shut that program down to save resources for the Time Based Art festival (without making an out and out public last ditch attempt at saving the year round visual arts program) it burnt a majority of bridges with the visual arts community. That includes PORT which was conceived at the time this all went down. Sure the TBA festivals are wonderful, but without a year round presence and therefore a coherent program arc the feeling was the visual arts were the red headed side project within the within the TBA portfolio. People started to refer to PICA as the TBA festival and major donors kept approaching me as they strugge\led to understand what the hell PICA was doing with the visual arts? Having a physical space that was very much its own separated it from all the other warehouse shows going on. Unfortunately, it became my job to remember and remind what we had lost in 2004. Sure, there has been the constant "permanent space kills art organizations" argument but Blue Sky, Newspace, PNCA, OCAC and even the Portland Art Museum have all shown how capital campaigns have ultimately improved our arts institutions in ways that refute that claim. Ignoring the simple fact that space with programming week in week out makes an institution approachable, gives an organization a kind of Peter Pan syndrome and a lack of defined year round programming only exacerbated the problem (YU is hopefully learning this lesson too). As I've written many times before, I have waited for PICA to grow up and it has finally happened.

PICA's new resource library with artist in residence on the left

Glen Fogel photo installed in PICA's new "dirty white space" patio

So that was 2004-2012, that is 8 years of scolding, basic institutional common sense 101 and crankyness but today I'm burying the hatchet. With the $200,000 ArtPlace grant last year PICA leveraged that stone to make some soup with numerous local contractors and the net result is something less posh than they once had, but hopefully more sustainable and more importantly room to grow. They are no longer couch surfing in W+K's guesthouse? They've grown up some but hopefully not too much.

Paintings by Glen Fogel at PICA's flexible new space

Ensconced in a modernist box nearby the Ace Hotel and Powells the patio and gallery space are flexible enough for performances, presentations and exhibitions. I like the rougher less antiseptic white box feel... it's a bit more street than the old space in W + K.

Glen Fogel's installation in the fantastically cavernous borrowed space beneath PICA's new office.

I'll leave a review of the show for later but certainly this exhibition shows how the new institutional configuration that PICA is spearheading with the help of the ArtPlace Grant. Maybe the work isn't startlingly original but the presentation and level of airtight art thought alone is miles beyond anything we have seen at the TBA festivals, which have a more diffuse and somewhat compromised kind of experience. The industrial nature of the full time and borrowed space gives the work on view immediacy, like it has newly emerged and still trying out it s sometimes immense new wings. This is a very concentrated experience, which is utterly unlike festival art viewing experiences.

Here Fogel was allowed/forced to tune his work to the immense space in a way that makes it quite different than the other times he has shown it. This is a good model...rather than shoehorning artists into spaces (like classrooms and decommissioned libraries) that ultimately colored the work with a sometimes distracting narrative thread and scattered attention. Welcome back PICA. Do this 2-3 times a year with a few scattered talks + TBA and it will be worth the wait and I'll gladly forget where I put that axe Ive ground at for 8 years!

Glen Fogel's My Apocalyptic Moment opens tonight at 7:00

*Update: It was a very well attended event and as predicted it all seemed to be a bit of a balm for the visual arts crowd, though there were some notables (former PICA champions) missing, there was a new crowd in effect with heightened expectations buoyed up by this new development. Portlanders have recently been expecting a lot more from arts institutions as of late and it was a grand moment to see so many genuinely impressed by the effort PICA obviously put into this unveiling. Portland has grown up quite a bit and now perhaps the growing sophistication of the crowds are catching up with the tens of thousands of artists who streamed into the city in the past decade and a half. If PICA plays their cards right they can be the institution best positioned as the institution for contemporary art in Portland. I remember a PICA that was more than just a TBA festival and there it was deja vu all over again last night.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on April 13, 2012 at 13:54 | Comments (2)


If PICA hadn't spent the least several years investing its energy in the creation of what has become Portland's only truly world class art event, do you think they would have been able to raise the money to open this space?

Jeff, you spend too much time playing armchair quarterback for the management of local arts organizations, and you've begun to take the tone of a burnt out postal worker screaming feebly at the TV. The hubris of opening and closing this blog entry with a dramatization of how PICA has fallen out of and back into your favor is astounding.

Perhaps you'd be better off writing a personal blog, rather than attempting to hold court over the entire local arts scene? More art, less acrimony over organizational strategy, please.

Posted by: Personal Homepage [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 13, 2012 09:09 PM

I salute your passion for the subject, the arts need such support.

First, It is difficult to see anything acrimonious in making peace with PICA at this moment? I'm quite proud PICA has taken this step but it is strange to suggest that 8 years is anything but a very long time to see any major institutional development. esp. when other institutions like PAM, PNCA, OCAC, Blue Sky, Newspace etc. have all been very active.

Furthermore, TBA is hardly the only "truly world class art event" in Portland (technically TBA was built before the vis arts program was gutted). For example, the current Rothko Retrospective up at PAM right now should be all it takes to puncture that falsehood. You don't give Portland enough credit, many institutions and individuals put on world class art events. Also, I spend a great deal of time "in the huddle" and that is part of what I offer, specifically an insider's view that raises expectations. You should think of PORT as the tip of the iceberg of my activities.

Second, this history is vitally important and I was there... at every single show in the original PICA space at W + K. Besides, what about pointing out the very high level of Edmunds/Horodner's program seems fanciful or self-serving? A good critic compares programmatic fluctuations and I'd be remiss if I didn't. If it seems personal... why not have a critic who actually cares when a major institution simply ends something or in this case does something very exciting? Love is never hubris, forgiveness is not hubris and critics (though often accused of such things) learn that such misdiagnosis is just an occupational hazard that goes with being relevant.

Lastly, there is no court... simply the presentation of shows, ideas, words and discussion. My views are my own of course but in this case they do represent a very real schism that is still deeply and widely felt in Portland's visual art community (and hopefully finally healing?)... perhaps rather than dwelling on the acrimony you can see this for what I hope everyone can agree is a watershed moment for PICA and Portland's cultural ecosystem?

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 13, 2012 11:06 PM

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