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Monday 04.08.13

« Friday links | Main | Openings : 10th & 11th of April »

Thoughts on Brian Ferriso's tenure at PAM and talk at Jimmy Mac's Tonight

PAM's Executive Director Brian Ferriso

Tonight, Randy Gragg will interview Brian Ferriso, the Portland Art Museum's Executive Director at Jimmy Mac's at 6:00PM.

Here is a primer packed with a few things nobody else is likely to address:

Now in his 7th year, Ferriso is basically priming Portland for what could be considered the final stage of his steady but important reshaping of PAM from a rambling and pragmatic program and collection based on the gilded Francophile blockbusters of his predecessor to one based on the best museum practices with an eye for historical relevance. With a series of excellent hires in the curatorial and education departments and several not so sexy but very important endowment building initiatives (like endowing curatorial positions)... Ferriso has transformed PAM from a constantly reshuffled house of cards to one that plays its hand like the house should, conservatively and consistently. Ferriso has given Portland's cultural flagship an even keel and the ability to avoid icebergs. Yes, he charted a course through a minefield when the economy went off a cliff in 2008!

He's also been the justifying force behind contemporary and modern exhibitions like China Design Now, Disqueted, Carrie Mae Weems, "dossier shows" like last year's Flesh and Bone (culled from the permanent collection)as well as the most important exhibition in the last 50 years for the Museum and last year's homecoming Mark Rothko exhibition. The Rothko show was especially important as even those who had been somewhat unimpressed with PAM walked away thinking... "that was major, good job!" I heard those words over and over again from other Portland art scene insiders. He also oversaw a tremendous image and programmatic makeover that is much more contemporary. Last but not least, Ferriso has made it a priority to find free days at the museum.

Overall, Id give him an A- (possibly an A if he can do a great expansion, which will require a lot of donor education, a great director needs great patrons) ... and he will be courted by other museums in the years to come. I predict he will be director of LACMA, Hirschhorn, Art Institute of Chicago or the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco eventually. The guy is THAT good and we should support his vision of seriousness for PAM and Portland. He's both honest and pragmatic, refreshingly he is smart enough to recognize an important truth when it crosses his path. He is a good listener and only clears his throat when he has something important to say.

Still Ferriso's job is not complete and he is one of those very rare museum directors who actually acknowledges where work needs to be done. Here is a review of his first year in office and here is a current to do list:

1) Exhibition spaces are still overhung from the initial 2005 opening of the Jubitz Center of Modern and Contemporary Art under his predecessor's watch. Portland is a design city and the "Northwest Hoarder"(TM) garage sale aesthetic rankles this key group to the core. Not a week goes by when someone doesn't mention this to me. This does cost money (and ruffles feathers when donated works are taken off the walls)... so there is a reason it hasn't been done. Still, it has to be done and waiting for an expansion is probably not the best idea if the museum wants participation. Still an expansion does find a way to fix some of the long hallway style galleries of the Jubitz Center.

2) PAM has currently no Curator of Design or programmatic department devoted to design. Design is a major industry in Portland, so this has to change for the museum to remain relevant. When PAM expands again (and it is openly in a quiet phase exploring this for 2017) look for a design by a major architect who can tie the gangly campus plan together and an endowed curator of design position. My vote for architect would be Steven Holl or Toyo Ito but that choice is mostly up to whomever steps up to be the lead donor (Brian I'll call you first if I win the Lottery). First of all, I don't expect a ultra flashy design like the Calatrava wing in Milwaukee overseen by Ferriso when deputy director there (Im from Milwaukee and know details). He was given the difficult task of reigning in a project with HUGE cost overruns and a misunderstood need for greater endowment funds. Also keep in mind that the fact that Kengo Kuma is doing the Portland Japanese Garden expansion and Brad Cloepfil is doing the 511 Building for PNCA does up the ante for PAM.

3) Though programmatically PAM has matured and improved its relevance significantly with excellent Modern and Contemporary shows by Rothko, Weems, Mike Kelley, Sigmar Polke and the very edgey Folkert de Jonge show currently on view... it has struggled to do relevant things with Portland's home-based but internationally active contemporary art scene. It is a huge paradox but understandable that the Northwest Curator position has basically been written off by artists with international profiles in Portland. Most museums struggle with this though. My best advice... try to get out to some shows. In Houston I see curators and directors from the CAMH, Menil and FAMH out at openings. Portland's scene is not represented best by its commercial galleries, but by its alternative spaces. I've seen new media work in those scrappy venues turn up in Chelsea, Tate Modern and other major museum regularly enough that it has become embarassing that PAM focuses on very traditional forms. I write this with a lot of love for PAM. In fact I can vouch for the fact that Ferriso himself is a excellent curator in his own right... his Rachael Harrison show back in 2003 was voted one of the 2 best curatorial efforts that year by the ICA and singled out by Artforum as one of the year's best.

4) Grow the collection. What is to become of Ed Cauduro's collection and PAM? Cauduro had the best art collection north of San Francisco and its fate practically defines whether certain holes (pop art and 80's stars) ever get filled. Losing this chance would be a massive cultural tragedy for both PAM and Cauduro's legacy. Breaking up or liquidating the collection is the equivalent of erasing Cauduro's incredible eye. I want young Portlanders 50 years from now to see Cauduro's name next to the Basquiat's portrait of him and ask... who was this guy? How did someone with such a great eye come to be?

Brian Ferriso: Bright Lights Discussion
April 8th | 6:00 PM (Doors at 5:30, free but get yourself a drink or a snack)
Jimmy Mac's | 221 NW 10th

Posted by Jeff Jahn on April 08, 2013 at 11:57 | Comments (0)


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