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Thursday 11.07.13

« Wednesday doings | Main | First Thursday Picks November 2013 »

Bridge naming bailiwicks, Rothko?

Peter Korn over at the Portland Tribune sure had a great time writing this piece on potential names* for the exciting new pedestrian and transit bridge designed by Donald MacDonald. Everyone seemed to pick someone from their experience, Mayor Hales wanted a politician (seriously?) and I've forwarded Mark Rothko. I have no idea why Steve Novick wants more Simpsons character names associated with Portland (it seems redundant but if pressed I like Lisa better than most other options, though its still a cop out when Portland's most famous son continues to go unheralded).

Rothko, as Portland's most accomplished/famous resident is the most serious bridge naming choice as I've detailed here and you can learn about his relationship to Portland in this important post. You can vote here.

Trimet used a somewhat older photo, the undeveloped areas have been filling in fast (all the more reason to dig up this history)

Overall, I like the idea of an artist who happens to be the the most celebrated person to ever live in Portland... a person that some of old-school Portlanders spend a great deal of energy trying to forget, could get his due in the place he grew up? I have no idea if it will work but I'm all for putting our best case forward and it has traction. Rothko lived to the highest of his ideals and his work showed that commitment. He suffered here in character forming ways, had his first solo show at the Portland Art Museum and lived near, worked under and painted Portland's bridges. It's an appropriate honor considering the possibility of a Rothko Museum in Portland is financially improbable.

2012 Rothko retrospective at the Portland Art Museum (photo Jeff Jahn)

School children should grow up knowing a great painter grew up here and though last years Rothko retrospective at the Portland Art Museum did accomplish those goals for a short time a more lasting acknowledgement, one that could also tell the story of how a young struggling Russian immigrant Jew and outsider who made good is a powerful thing.

It is also a simple acknowledgement in a city of artists and designers that doesn't seek to do anything other than understand itself through its most accomplished resident. Portlanders have a hard time with greatness, so this is more a test for Portland than for Rothko.

Overall, Rothko always seems to challenge and polarize people and in Portland this bridge has become a new way for us to reassess ourselves and examine what we value.

*Note, Rothko was never arrested for public nudity when camping in Washington park... merely rousted by Portland Police for that reason.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on November 07, 2013 at 1:00 | Comments (2)


Although many a dead white guy's name is in the running for the new bridge name, including Jeff Jahn's advocacy for a different flavor of dead white guy, Mark Rothko, (when white guy Jeff Jahn could have just as easily advocated for Carrie Mae Weems: also a Portland artist with talent) I have faith that my great city will not follow in the tradition of past patriarchs and name the bridge in this manner.
The Portland People's Bridge is a simple name and it makes perfect sense. The name does not exclude any person, like the bridge itself. This bridge is designed with the past and the future in mind, which includes all people and their stories entirely.
PPB or the People's Bridge or simply The Bridge, has a name that speaks to its function. It makes for easier travel for people of all groups without the lingering remnants of oppression and white male privilege and therefore it is loved by all.

The Portland People's Bridge

Posted by: plus.google.com/103197222917253676706 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2013 09:00 AM

As an immigrant, Jew and artist I think Rothko constitutes a minority worth honoring. He faced rascism and was no WASP so your charge IS baseless.

What's more, I've met Carrie and she's still very much alive... bridges should be named after people who are no longer with us because it allow history to vet them and allow their namesake to accrue additional historical value beyond. Besides Weems has no particular connection to that part of the Willamette, Rothko does... he grew up in the neighborhood and painted that area repeatedly.

As an immigrant Jew, Rothko was decidedly non WASPish presence his entire life. My suggestion of him is mostly an attempt to refocus Portland on artists and the sacrifices they make to inspire/enrich us all.

Using the opportunity to sift through our history is worthwhile and though a name can be polarizing it is also inspiring. Something generic is a punt that seeks to avoid the fact that a city is defined less by its buildings and more by those who have lived in it. Picking a name is great exercise in reminding us of who we are.

Im not against Abigail Dunway though (Like Rothko she is a strong candidate), though she does have a new building in the Pearl being named after her. The thing with Rothko is anything less than a bridge probably isn't a high enough honor for his name. He was a man of immense ideals and naming a building or park after him isn't idealistic enough.

To me the bridge idea is a bridge across time, an alms for all the racism and misunderstanding Rothko suffered through. It made him strong and naming the bridge after him would make Portland stronger.

One problem though is Portland doesn't celebrate greatness and Rothko is already, undeniably an all time great. Honestly, I'd be shocked if the city actually chose to honor him with the bridge. I forward the idea more as a test of the city, it isn't a test for Rothko at all.

The Rothko Bridge also speaks to what he found worth studying aesthetically about Portland during his more formative years. He was a Portlander before he was Mark Rothko after all.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2013 11:36 AM

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