The Portland Art Museum has announced that Grace Kook-Anderson will be the next Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art
. Congratulations are in order as the position is the chief connector of PAM's curatorial program to the very active art scene. There is a challenge inherent in this as the Museum is somewhat disconnected from the more cutting edges of a nationally and internationally active local scene, often doing a better job of focusing on Seattle and Montana than its own back yard. Challenges are a good thing and it seems like PAM is aware of them because Grace's background seems to address these issues.
The Museum's statement:
"I am thrilled by the appointment of Grace Kook-Anderson as the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art," said Brian Ferriso, the Portland Art Museum's director and chief curator. "Grace's highly regarded tenure as the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Laguna Art Museum, coupled with her recent work in Portland as an arts writer and critic, make her an ideal candidate to lead our important mission of evaluating and celebrating our region's historical and burgeoning visual arts scene."
During her six years at the Laguna Art Museum, Kook-Anderson organized nearly 30 exhibitions, including the creation and curation of the ex.pose contemporary art program, a space dedicated to a single artist that has strong parallels to the Portland Art Museum's APEX gallery, which she will manage. She expanded the exhibition calendar from one year to three years, served as interim education curator, developed public programs, engaged in fundraising, authored and contributed to multiple publications, and acquired many important pieces for the collection. She also presented Best Kept Secret: UCI and the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California, 1964-1971 as part of the Getty's 2011/12 Pacific Standard Time Initiative: Art in LA 1945-1980.
"Having closely followed the Portland Art Museum for the last several years, I am very excited to be part of the talented staff of the museum," Kook-Anderson said. "I look forward to collaborating with fellow curatorial and educational staff, deepening my knowledge of the collection, expanding the scholarship of historical Northwest art up to the present time, and actively engaging with regional artists in the context of a broader art scene."
It is great that she is both a Portland resident already as well as someone with experience with the Pacific Standard Time project, that should help integrate the Northwest into the West Coast discussion. Hopefully, she can sort out several pressing issues including a better sense of how the Apex series and Contemporary Northwest Art Awards programs differ from one another? Also, throughout their history the CNAA awards, though handsome, have been nicknamed the Conservative Northwest Art Awards by the scene. What's more the idea of Northwest art has repeatedly fallen back on stereotypes like craft, whittling and landscape when the history is far more varied with abstraction and new media having a long and continued history of potency here that isnt merely traditional but often cutting edge (a fact that is rarely celebrated or supported institutionally). For example all "craft" is not a celebration of the hand made and so much of the discourse around it has been regressive. Overall, the Pacific Northwest has a long history of an internationally engaged yet uniquely local art scene so lets hope this new appointment can reflect and focus attention on the changes, which are already most apparent. Ultimately it is an interesting tightrope between tradition and the cutting edge that this position must address to bring the Museum itself more into line with the City of Portland.
That said one of the great things about the Portland Art Museum is it has devoted spaces and a program that is focused on Northwest Art regionally and its history. This "back yard" focus is incredibly rare at most major museums and should be celebrated.
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