Breaking news, PORT received word that the University of Oregon plans to close its wonderful White Box exhibition space in Portland after this school year. Curator Cris Moss will carry out programming through June 2017. Another institutional change is that the John Yeon Center will be directed by core faculty members and not Randy Gragg as it is now. Overall, it seems like a very rash decision that hurts the U of O's reputation as a serious art school since the White Box is one of the premier exhibition spaces in the State of Oregon. It also gives the school legitimate roots in the very vibrant Portland art scene. They should reconsider, as it will damage the school's reputation immensely by shuttering it without exhausting every avenue (not just AA&A's very Eugene-centric avenues). Earlier this year we helped lead the outside charge to successfully save PSU's Littman gallery
from administrative undersight. Big schools have silos and galleries usually are at the short end od most budgetary sticks, despite the fact that they are major connectors to the community and the good will/resources they bring.
The current Christopher Michlig exhibition at White Box through December 10, 2016
All of this is very sad news and puts the U of O's Portland Campus commitments into question. Disclosure, I have a long history with the White Box, co-curating the Donald Judd exhibition and conference in 2010
. It was one of the first shows there and of the very highest caliber. This past April Cris and I co-curated the extremely adventurous Habitats multi-media exhibition
so I have a lot of insight into how things are in that building. The current Christopher Michlig show was one of my picks for First Thursday this month
and indicates how highly myself and others consider this exhibition space's role in the community. This is terrible news as Cris is among the most thoughtful, adventurous and rigorous curators in Oregon.
The Dean of the School of Allied Arts and Architecture Christof Lindner's statement was, "White Box has served as a valuable extension of A&AA's academic mission in Portland for the past seven years. We are particularly thankful for Cris Moss' contributions in developing a vision that has brought White Box to its current status in the Portland art community. Nonetheless, it has become apparent that we cannot provide sufficient funding for White Box to operate as a premier and independent gallery without drawing those resources from our academic programs. Accordingly, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close White Box at the end of this academic year. Regardless of our need to discontinue this programming, we remain committed to engaging in the visual arts in Portland."
Though not a complete shock, the gallery was student run until recently when Moss took over the helm just under 2 years ago
. Big universities are tricky and the space needed an endowment to keep it safe from administrative whims but at the same time in such large schools the curators do not have full license to fundraise. In many ways Cris was just starting to formalize the gallery in a way that it could achieve those kinds of goals.
There is no way to characterize this other than as a step back from engaging the Portland Art community in a rigorous way and Moss is one of the only consistently rigorous university curators in the area, whereas most curry favor with faculty by giving them shows. The White Box was different with solo exhibitions by Julia Oldham and Avantika Bawa that upped the ante presentation-wise. There weren't any flaws to those shows and the size of the White Box's 3 rooms made it both large enough to make a statement but small enough to manage logistically. What is also special about the White Box is that it interacts with the community by being on the street level right off the sidewalk rather than being buried within a building or campus like every other university gallery is in Portland.
I suggest everyone write the President of the University of Oregon and explain how this makes them feel here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Of note is the closure of the White Box as the U of O's prime community connector and cultural participant.... all the while keeping athletics related retailing at the forefront. It just doesn't seem balanced and makes the U of O's Portland campus seem intrinsically diminished. The University of Oregon has an enormous budget but as the little guy the White Box lacks the same institutional leverage as say athletics. It also dramatically reduces the U of O's brand within the visual arts significantly and I believe it is short sighted to close the space. Perhaps enough ruckus will talk the university off this very high cultural ledge they are about to jump off?
*Update, apparently the way this decision was made is not very popular with U of O faculty... this is not over.
(more to come)