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Monday 04.14.14

« Thoughts on Sigmar Polke | Main | Andrea Geyer at PICA »

Monday Links

Brian Libby says goodby to PNCA's Goodman building. It is no secret that PNCA has been undergoing growing pains... experiencing both massive growth and contractions at the same time (in different areas like enrollment, new departments and physical plant). This gets more painful the larger the institution is. Let's hope the 511 years lead to a stable golden age for the school as it consolidates more around the North Park Blocks. The Goodman building's commons area has been Portland's arts oriented living room more than any other space in the city can claim, though they were also difficult for some uses.

File under odd, Cyndy Sherman responds to James Franco. He's a good actor and a forgettable artist but I appreciate his appreciation of visual art.

Bacon_Install_smll.jpg
Francis Bacon Triptych recently on view at PAM (during install)

This is very stale news in Portland's scene but the NYT's has finally taken notice of something that has been going on for over a decade in Oregon, showing art bought at auctions in our museums. It can blind some (like traditional journalists) with a less broadly based art historical backgrounds and it makes the discourse reactionary and short sighted. First of all, some arguments are more than a little specious. Arguably, the history of arts patronage has always been related to tax avoidance, but perhaps that is the wrong term. Museums have always trafficked in that grey area interchange between wealthy collectors and sharing with the masses. Thus, in a way they take the mostly hidden impulse to hoard treasures and turn them into cultural/economic boosters (bringing people downtown etc). Museums are one of the few places the rich are taxed more proportionately and in plain view. What is more, the museums house those treasures, which are everyone's cultural patrimony and transform these asset/objects into an enriching and publicly available cultural experiences. By putting works on display also suspend the market experience, sometimes indefinitely so when they are added to the permanent collection. Charles Saatchi once famously said, "The rich will always be with us," and I think it is wrong to implicate a collector who is actually acting as a patron by sharing the work... it would have a chilling effect on the arts. That said the current income inequality has made the issue a rightfully hot one so I take things on a case by case basis. The bacon painting is great and therefore was completely worth bringing here.

Also, consider how the past 15 years most museum's educational outreach has broadened tremendously. It is an important role. The charge that there are "no question's asked," of Oregon Museums is rather specious and reactionary. Specifically, when Chief Curator Bruce Guenther chose to ask about the Bacon triptych it was because it is a historically important piece that the market created a window for and yes within Bacon's ouvre it is a "Masterpiece" (importantly, displaying it likely did nothing for its market value). Same goes for other shows like; Gerhard Richter, Ed Ruscha, Camouflage or Sigmar Polke shows that PAM has been able to execute because a major art collector was willing to share. All those shows had an eye cultural relevance/importance and provide a glimpse into something important Oregonians would not have access to otherwise. So what if Oregon is playing Switzerland to the billionaires to the north and south of us? All states engage in these sorts of interstate contests... last year San Diego and San Franscisco were busing homeless people to Portland. It isn't the same thing of course and those other cities were playing loose and fast with people's lives. My point is all art requires compartmentalized thinking to exist at all because fine art isn't a practical concern (that's the point to explore the impractical things that make life richer). Yet, it is intellectually irresponsible to suggest that someone was receiving a degraded education in California because a collector chose to share their excellent painting in an Oregon museum. It just isn't that simple, though what it does do is reveal a fault line in the growing income inequality that is tearing at the American Dream these days. The fact that museums can be on the front lines of that discussion helps justify Oregon museums as somewhat Robin Hood - like creatures. Except instead of robbing the rich they induce them to share and take on some of burdens of education that our school systems in this state have been pushing off onto the cultural non profits.

There is no magic bullet but it all points to one thing, serious patronage and noblesse oblige are scarce in Oregon when our institutions have to go outside their immediate borders to provide the kind of programming that a culturally active place like Portland now demands (an acquisition fund would be nice too). Today Portland is crawling with designers and well educated newcomers that 15 years ago would have been unthinkable, (well I saw it). I think we all want to see local collectors with work strong enough to put on international caliber shows and perhaps this is a wake up call... though it is unlikely any beginning collector will be purchasing major Francis Bacon paintings. We should remember that art is an international exchange and I tend to feel that partnering with someone out of state to bring an excellent painting by a British artist is a great way to highlight how small our world has become. I'm privy to many things that I wont discuss specifics on but a great many of those who lend works to PAM do participate as patrons and don't just merely receive a tax break in their home state. Oregon has many advantages and it is nice that the Times is writing about something other than our donuts, we aren't a state of mere quirksters. As others wake up to this fact it will change the state... we should take pains to make certain it is for the better.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on April 14, 2014 at 10:57 | Comments (0)


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