2016's Open This End at the Hoffman Gallery (L to R) Jack Pierson, Andy Warhol, Agnes Martin, Tony Smith and Rita Mcbride
**There will be updates as they come in
Lewis and Clark College, known for being perhaps the most liberal of all of Portland's Liberal Arts Colleges has decided to "change....toward a more student-centered and student-responsive gallery experience at the end of this school year." That means their excellent curator Linda Tesner has been laid off and according to the school, "we plan to look for a faculty member to lead that process." The question remains is that a professional curator? Linda did shows of startling international caliber but also mounted excellent student and faulty shows that all benefited from a higher level of competence. Portland institutions are terrible at assessing caliber of cultural programs and it will be very difficult for this development to not become a downgrade. How does an institution that touts itself as, "A private college with a public conscience," defend an inward navel gazing + likely cost saving measure? How do the today's students feel now that they are being expected to program their own art experience when for 20 years previous students had a very interactive, socially conscious high caliber professional curator?
At first I heard that the space was closing at the end of the school year, which seemed incredibly short sighted as this is one of the jewels in Portland's cultural scene and nothing could be more crucial to a Liberal Arts education than the actual "Arts." For years there has been bureaucratic pressure (like renting the gallery space etc.) but now the director+curator Linda Tesner has been laid off, despite having done an excellent job curating shows like: The world class: Open this End
and this stunner
and Alison Saar
. Reading between the lines this move seems to devalue the curatorial expertise and contributions just like the the closure of the White Box did to their director
. (Changing leadership when someone is doing a great job and is popular always looks odd to art critics). Then there was the way the Art Gym's cancelled move to OCAC displaced longtime OCAC staff (its bad to have institutions displacing each other). I can say I never heard L&C art students complain that the Hoffman wasnt challenging or current or engaged enough, the opposite actually. Instead, it was without a doubt one of the best run spaces in the West Coast but always seemed to lack support from some higher ups. Will that change? contact L&C's president and tell them what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org The irony is deep as now L&C President Wim Weiwel will have the main gallery of PSU's new art museum named after him
and I know for a fact he likes attending art exhibitions.
Many in the arts community consider this a crushing blow and an act of philistinism in a school with an otherwise enlightened reputation that is being tarnished, needlessly. True this is happening all over the country but L&C is a wealthy with a very progressive reputation. This is extremely unfortunate and The Hoffman rightly drew accoclades from Peter Plagens in the Wall Street Journal in 2012 for its student exhibition
2012 graduate Drew Linehan described the news as, "remarkably disappointing."
2003 graduate Leah Emkin was shocked saying, "The Hoffman was an integral part of our arts program. Linda was very inspirational as a woman leader in the arts."
Other Alumni indicated how the Hoffman under Tesner made the campus less isolated and brought the world to the wealthy enclave in the West Hills. How does looking more inward institutionally help a supposedly ultra-liberal arts college? Something does not sit right... a bit like a big hospital without a surgeon and replacing them with a part time medic. It just isnt the same thing unless the caliber of director remains and from everything I heard over the years it may have contributed to some bureaucratic aca-envy. Linda's program mounted large scale shows for local artists and L&C faculty as well as international artists. This exhibition and cultural exchange with Cuban artists and L&C students is a prime example of the great things Linda did
that apparently was not valued.
What this seems to be is a bureaucratic push for a different director so the question must be will it be be for someone of comparable expertise and program of comparable caliber? With the loss of so many institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Craft, White Box, Newspace, Art Gym etc. it seems like depth of long term curatorial experience that informs challenging shows doesnt seem to be valued very much. Agendas in higher ed can be some of the most political. Yet, what I liked about Linda is she was one of the most fair minded people in the art scene. The arts arent just a mouthpiece, they are an exploration and I'll be watching this closely. What is sure here is that Linda leaves very large shoes to fill as the Hoffman is not a tiny gallery. It is a large museum style space that requires a lot of experience and preparations to program. Its not the sort of space a faculty member can just pull off as a side gig and in general I fear for the state of L&C's art program.
Lastly, let's all go and show our support this weekend. The current exhibition is one of their all time best
and will host a closing event on Sunday December 9th from 2-4PM with a Gallery Talk and Pie Tutorial.
Loss of Material Evidence | September 8 - December 9
Lewis and Clark College