Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Mid April Links
America's Whispered Truths closing at Archer Gallery
Early April Critique of Institution Links
Spring Cleaning Cluster Reviews
Spring Calls
More Spring Cleaning
Early Spring Cleaning Links
D.E. May 1952-2019
Save OCAC protests
February links to Love
The end of OCAC?
End of January Links

recent comments

Thomas K. Conway



Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Openings & Events
About PORT

regular contributors


Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman



Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us


Contact us






powered by


Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a


Creative Commons License

Thursday 10.17.13

« Brenna Murphy at Upfor | Main | Suzanne Opton at Linfield College »

Bridge named after Rothko?


Trimet is taking public input for the naming of the exciting new transit, pedestrian and cycling only bridge over the Willamette.

I find bridges the most conceptually appealing form of infrastructure... they speak to our ideals, hopes and manifest existential metaphors physically in a way a street or park doesn't do as poetically. That said, this new bridge could be named after a general or some politician but as I've mentioned before should be named after Mark Rothko, who is Portland's most famous son... and remains unacknowledged in any memorial within the city (Portland's inability to acknowledge him is an embarrassing holdover from the city's more provincial attitudes, that have thankfully faded over the past 15 years). The fact that Rothko was a Russian immigrant Jew who rose to become one of the most consequential artists of all time should be enough but Rothko himself had quite a connection to the site as the western side of the bridge was host to numerous Jewish business and homes (including Rothko's family). He even painted the site and had a special fondness for mass transit.


The bridge naming would be is especially fitting since the artist spent considerable time crossing back and forth across the Willamette (usually the Burnside Bridge, under which he sold newspapers).

For more information, Rothko's time in Portland was assiduously studied by our own Arcy Douglass here. I believe his sense of tragedy and atmospherics can in part be directly attributed to growing up under Portland's dramatic skies as well as life shaping events like his father's death. What's more he had his first major solo show at the Portland Art Museum, which also held a retrospective last year. Rothko took his first art classes at the Museum school (now PNCA) before leaving for Yale.

Mark Rothko, 1961 (c) 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2008

Lastly, this needs to be done tastefully and should originate from artists with an abiding love for both the work and a human interest in the struggles that Rothko endured here (not some crass political campaign so I'm not going to organize this too much). To avoid provincialism or pantomime the bridge should not be made to look in any way like a Rothko painting, but it is an important way for the city to rediscover its history through planning for the future (via the bridge).

Portland is now a creative hub with many other immigrants and needs to remind itself that those roots run deep. This frankly would mean nothing to Rothko's reputation but it would redress the provincial, "he left so he didn't like us so we dont like him" mantra that was helped along by the historically out of date Breslin book (Breslin was not a Historian). Instead, it is far more complicated than that. Rothko returned repeatedly, even for his first honeymoon and desperately wanted his family to approve of him becoming an artist. He was a product of Portland's Jewish intellectual community, how else could an immigrant end up being accepted to Yale? He always had a tie to Portland and a friend from Lincoln High School proved to be the most important connection he had to wider cultural circles even when he was on the East Coast. At one time Rothko even considered becoming an engineer so there is something about this kind of structure that fits. Lastly, there is a lot of high level art historical research going into Rothko's once glossed over Portland years (they were difficult and crucially formative).

A naming would acknowledge a great Portlander for the difficulties he faced here (and shaped him) and perhaps help Portland better appreciate the serious artists who currently come here as a serious art hub. Back in Rothko's day one simply had to leave if they were ambitious but today so many use it as a kind of rebel base. Perhaps that is why a lot of us who came here over the past 15-20 years see him as a patron saint? It isn't coattails (there is no tourism in this idea), it is owning up to one's history in a suitable way. Portland has a problem acknowledging greatness and this issue illustrates it perfectly.

The proposal is receiving serious consideration and as a bold idea is more of a test for Portland than Rothko. If Rothko can't get his due in his boyhood and young adult home, then what chance do other Portlanders really have? As it stands Portland's young and ambitious artists still mostly make their names outside of Portland, leaving the official city markers in a perpetual state of catch up.

Naming the bridge after Rothko may or may not happen but it will say a lot about the city itself... capricious, silly, dull, provocative or seriously committed to higher ideals?

Posted by Jeff Jahn on October 17, 2013 at 13:42 | Comments (1)


I like it Jeff, good idea.
I have submitted a vote for the Rothko Memorial bridge.

Posted by: Thomas K. Conway [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2013 12:06 PM

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee