Whether or not it is fair, most major art institutions are caught in a crossfire these days, whether its forming a line to march in the woke parade, a sense that the 1% has unfairly rigged things too well or artwashing. Things are tense or at least sense of unsettled tension seems to background everything. I'm nearly done going through my archives for my 20 years of being in Portland post. It is about a thousand times more difficult writing about oneself, especially when you are easily bored with yourself like I am. So to distract you with more important things here are some links:
As expected Catlin Gabel has bought OCAC and it is over. Ill have more on this in my Portlandageddon article (coming soon, all things in the right time) but all this was needless and nobody buys the agitprop that this could not be avoided and nobody is to blame. Blame = a weak board that was out of their depth and should have stepped down instead of pursuing a policy that put all eggs into merging with another school. Merging could not happen because all tuition based revenue models of higher education are broken... I saw this immediately. OCAC had a lack of vision by creating a leadership gap which ground fundraising momentum to zero, right when they needed it. This is sad especially considering how much most of the community wanted it saved. The situation required real leadership (board and some faculty) that was not inherently fatalistic. Where was the oversight and the understanding that they were in way over their heads? I dont blame Catlin Gabel, they have a super competent board and its a hard lesson that Portland institutions continue to not learn about endowments and stewarding institutional momentum.
Just some of the Northern Lights exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden
Guest curated by Sachiko Matsuyama, Northern Lights: Ceramic Art of Hokkaido, features works by 21 established artists of the Hokkaido Pottery Society, with additional works by other members. Northern Lights is a follow up to an exhibition held at the Portland Japanese Garden a decade ago and celebrates the occasion of 50th anniversary of the Hokkaido Pottery Society. This is my 20th year of living in Portland and for that entire time the Japanese Garden has consistently put on the strongest craft based shows in the city. This exhibition is no exception with personal favorites like Masaaki Ishikawa's swirl patterned vessel with blade ridges, Shichiiro Koyama's Bishamon tortoise-shell lattice vessel and my favorite a tiny little green ah glaze bowl by Hideki Takai.
2019 is the Year of Hokkaido at Portland Japanese Garden, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of the sister-city relationship between Portland and Sapporo. In many ways the Portland Japanese garden is the Japanese cultural embassy in the USA.
The news today that Don Tuski, current President of PNCA is leaving the school after only 3 years wasnt unexpected (certain exchanges then lack of follow up were a tell). First, higher education in general is in an incredibly challenging position... that of a destabilized financial model for any tuition based school without state funding (and that's dwindling too). More specific to Tuski, who had a stabilizing influence despite the relentless turmoil of rival school closures and ultimately the decision not to merge with OCAC ... he always seemed like a genial presence rather than the dynamic one of his predecessor (needed for a time). Now that PNCA has been somewhat stabilized (by virtue of outlasting rivals) it really needs a master fundraiser to shore up endowments for scholarships and professor positions as that is the only way to weather the current storm. Seems like Tuski going back to Michigan (in addition to being back to his roots and family) is a return to funders who are trying to reinvest in Michigan. Oregon is a younger state where a lot of the money here hasnt learned how to participate as effectively, leaving only a few Oregon families to take lead roles (most of whom tied heavily to real estate). Real estate money behaves differently than industrial, lumber, financial, new entrepreneurial and tech money (all new money). The Midwest has a different mindset, they realize that without investments all the talent ends up on the coasts. I suggest the next president be a visionary and relentless fundraiser. They should also be a better talent scout than most Portland institutional leaders tend to be. Tuski did have the vision to open a new GLASS building in North Portland, providing large scale ceramics and other staging possibilities. Still, the sense is only the most ambitious and talent driven art schools with the funding to attract those students with scholarships will survive the turmoil of the current student debt crisis and massive cost of education in the coming decade. Yet Portland is full of design and other creative sector firms so the disconnect between where funding/recruitment is placed and where it is derived seems pronounced. Tuski seemed capable but unable to really capture the imagination of Portlanders, perhaps he gave them too much of what they wanted... his predecessor, Tom Manley, was far more ambitious and controversial yet one of the most crucial Portlanders of the 21st century. They both inherited very different times and institutions.
PORT friend David Anfam, the world's leading Rothko Scholar and Curator of the Clifford Still Museum discusses the Rothko being auctioned off by SFMOMA.
I am not a fan of this deacquisition to buy other works by less represented artists but SFMOMA does have better Rothkos and they dont display it very often. That's terrible logic and if SFMOMA were truly committed to telling new stories through their collection they should do it without selling the work by one of the USA's most lauded immigrant artists! It is absurd and unfortunate. This Koons in the collection would be a far better choice (yes yes a partial gift that isnt wholly SFMOMA's but I think PORT readers get the point).
That the current Desert X Biennial isnt very sensitive to its surroundings is no surprise... too often art in the desert relies on its otherness rather than compound the situation presented. Some of my favorite works by Walter De Maria, Smithson, Judd and Michael Heizer all understand their inability to compete as an insertion with the site and in fact create "an incompletion" instead. If I were to curate a desert foray... it would have to operate that way (I've actually lived in a desert or 2 and that helps).
Not surprisingly the Zumthor LACMA design was approved. Frankly, I liked this design better when it had more gallery space and the curatorial offices were not farmed out to a rental building. Also, I actually like the curving single floor plan. I just dislike the banishing of curatorial expertise... (its a bigger museum problem as less and less curators are expected to be experts and act more like assistant directors). I like Govan's ideas about interdisciplenary non-timeline reliant hangs but it actually takes more expertise to do that right... like having 2 or more great chefs cooking together but now it feels like the curators are being sent a corrosive message. Museums are not just the storage lockers and tax havens of the rich... they are exist as the keepers of culture and that requires human expertise put on display (and it isnt just the art alone... it is the considered display and interplay... when I last visited LACMA there were problems in the displays of interplay).
America's Whispered Truths closing at Archer Gallery
Willy Little (fg) and Reneee Billingslea's Lynching Shirts (bg) at Archer Gallery
It ends Saturday so dont miss America's Whispered Truths at the Archer Gallery, which I reviewed recently within a cluster of related shows. In this duo exhibition Renee Billingslea and Willie Little dont pull any punches as they each explore the not so subtle violence of racism through powerful assemblage and installations.
If you want a truly unvarnished yet nuanced exhibition, America's Whispered Truths screams in silent terror, giving scope and sobering scale to the whole discussion of racism in America.
America's Whispered Truths
February 19 - April 13
Closing Reception: April 13, 3-5PM Archer Gallery
Clark College, Vancouver WA.
Things are coming to a head in LA for LACMA's Zumthor design as funding comes to a vote and detractors have noted it has less space for the permanent collection. Much less apparently. I'm not against this expansion like many voices in LA are but I think the single floor design is a problem as is the decrease in permanent collection space. (Solution add a second floor for curatorial offices and some special focus exhibitions for the permanent collection?) Lately, museums have been having problems activating their permanent collections as well as downgrading the role of expert in house curators. It is part of what Ive been calling the war on expertise (from both ends of the political spectrum). It's terrible and must be countered. Museum expansions should deepen an institution's connection and scope of appreciation of art by lay people and experts alike... they need each other. True intellectuals and artists challenge administrative planning and institutional framing any design that cannot accept that kind of thought pressure isnt the right design and will be seen as culturewashing for the 1%. Zumthor is talented enough to address this as he is one of the world's very best architects. The trick is to make this a gift/investment to LA and not to the 1%. I know Portland with its own looming expansion or two is watching this closely.
This month marks my Twentieth Anniversary of moving to Portland and arguably that decision changed Portland in many ways (addressing history history with, Judd and Rothko, and a new appreciation of new media with Pipilotti Rist, Hank Willis Thomas and Cao Fei + talent scouting locals, etc). Simply put, I challenge Portland. There is still much more is to be done as the city doesnt effectively support its best artists yet (other cities do it for us... but still cmon). Considering all this, I've been spending a lot of time looking at art, with a one night Spring Equinox show as well (it was very underground on purpose). As part of my spring cleaning process here is a cluster of reviews, with an eye towards exposing some common threads and themes. Key: "*" Indicates show still open and "**" indicates it is still open for today's First Thursday (yes PAM is open for First Thursday). As you can see Portland's art scene is far from dead, challenges sometimes strengthen things and I see evidence of it here.
Main exhibition space of The Map Is Not The Territory with Charlene Vicker's Remember Redwing (fg)
The Map is Not the Territory is the Portland Art Museum's revolving triennial replacement for the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards (which among artists was nicknamed the conservative art awards). For this program instead of a stereo typically "Northwest" approach to traditional materials and subject matter like rain, glass, trees and fetish of effortful handwork the show has thankfully taken on an anthropological approach, which is essentially an expose on the human experience. I found it more satisfying than the CNAA's or any of the other weak institutional regional surveys Portland has been routinely subjected to recently. Mostly that is because this show felt connected to the times rather than trying to ingratiate itself among various special interest patronage factions. In short the work felt personally involved rather than a checklist of token inclusions. Themes like border crossings, ancestors, roots, food, shelter and the uneasy dance of the natural and man made are all topical and relevant, if a little obvious themes to explore. Think of this a as a show where PAM evolves from merely a map to patronage to one that asks the broad question of, "What are we doing here?"
Willy Little (fg) and Reneee Billingslea at Archer Gallery