First of all this April 1st marks the 16th anniversary of my move to Portland and perhaps the only thing that has changed since last year
is there is a greater alarm over rising rents
and a more urgent sense that we still don't reward excellence like we should here (to offset those costs). Overall, it is strange to think I've had an effect but between the curatorial projects (The Best Coast, Fresh Trouble and Donald Judd etc.) and art criticism that reached over 1.5 million unique readers last year alone... you would have to work very hard to deny it. I know I've tried, but since back in 2002 people kept saying Portland can't become an interesting arts city... an assumption that begged to be challenged. Funny now that we are sometimes drowning in interesting but that is what curation and criticism do... sometimes they are the knife, other times the stone and the real question is if understanding is sharper after the choices have been made?
Photo Jeff Jahn
Well it happened and attitudes changed, partially because I helped lead a vocal and demonstrative charge for higher expectations and still do... thankfully I'm just not alone anymore and I enjoy having a wider field of curators, spaces and artists that back things up. It is better now, though more formalized. As an independent curator who has brought Donald Judd, Cao Fei and Hank Willis Thomas and Pipilotti Rist etc. along with foregrounding new local talent who have gone on to forge national and international careers it feels good. Complacency is always the biggest problem in a smaller city like Portland but this place continues to be a hotbed. We can't take anything for granted.... but do we reward our best and brightest?
PORT itself turns 10 in June and I'm working on some very exciting programming for it (yes the Guenther post is coming still, PNCA and PORT anniversary things have kept me from coding it but it is written. It isn't your average PORT post at 5,000+ words and its huge # of images layout and coding is an important but time consuming aspect, besides it is a history piece not some reactionary journalism screed). As a historian I tend to take my time on big projects rather than rush. Till then here are some hasty musings:
Richard Speer pens the last of his articles for the WWeek with a reflection on the art scene and a list
of his favorite shows
. First of all it wasn't "better" it was far smaller and less academic with an odd sense that we were discovering our potential as a city (one which it had been deep denial of, now its more obvious that it is something great that we need to take steps to preserve and spur on). There are far more galleries, art school programs and artists now. Let's just say Richard has never been a lover of academicism (which he seems to be reacting to) but it is also true that "art school" is a look that has to be unlearned if you want to be better than merely good. Also, back then the same 50-100 people could be seen at every major show and MFA's were rare. Today 200 or more from completely different groups can show up at different events on the same night. Many of these core groups of individuals shared time at a similar academic institution so it can feel more closed and hermetic even though attendance and venues are greater in number today. Thus, the Portland art scene in 2015 is still in expansion (see PNCA
), but the kind of cliquishness I mentioned to great effect here is something to worry about
. 2001-2005 was a time I call the "Battle for Portland." In 2001 fellow curator Cris Moss and I independently started a series of warehouse shows. Later he moved to NYC to get his masters, then came back. I already had mine. By 2005, we had a new museum wing an art fair and I curated Fresh Trouble
. 10 years later it is more about persistent alternative spaces which Peter Plagens wrote about in 2012
. Basically, it is harder to find good work because the scene is so large now that it is impossible to see every show in Portland. With so many venues it simply requires far more digging. Back in 2003 you could go to one big warehouse show every few months and be all caught up. Still, Speer makes some good points. Many venues play it far safer than necessary and many artists who have developed international careers save their best work for outside of Portland. Institutionally it is on the Portland's present day presenting organs and art awards to allow these artists with an edge to show in town with the same panache they show in museums and biennials elsewhere. Instead, our awards and institutions have been very obsessed with tamer, more traditional things (often created by academicians and those who were entrenched here before 2000 when the city became more interesting
) and it needs to change. Institutionally we need to make certain our sharpest and most daring area artists do their best and most experimental work at home and not just abroad. Sometimes we suffer from a toxic politeness and Portland has to retool to maintain the competitive edge it has enjoyed for so long, at least if it wishes to keep it. Thank you Richard it has been a pleasure disagreeing/agreeing with you and I'm glad the WWeek is filling the space you leave there.
Richard's list of shows is interesting because I wouldnt pick a single one of them
and a bit of a time warp (you can read this very old article if you want to learn more Portland art renaissance history
). I should point out that Matthew Picton's piece in Symbiont/Synthetic was made of acrylic beads not glass ones imbedded in cast rubber on slinkies. You can actually see a bit of Symbiont Synthetic here
. I wanted to capture the energy of Portland at the time and it is nice that people still talk about things I've curated over a decade ago.... it feels good knowing that somethings were far more on the money that I had guessed.
The Guardian looks at Portland's tiny house solution
Nice abstract painter's interview with Thomas Nozkowski
For some April fools fun:
Lol the Whitney Perpetual to replace the Biennial
Here is an eye opener, 1/3rd of museum exhibitions come from just 5 galleries
. Now I dont think this is anything new, Castelli, Kahnweiler and Betty Parsons all exerted disproportionate influence.