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Guest Writer

They could have just shown up ...
Suspension of disbelief
by Eva Lake

he Oregonian recently reported that the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art is temporarily suspending its visual arts program. Stuart Horodner, the curator hired to specifically work in this area, was let go.

Around the time Horodner was hired, Bruce Guenther was also welcomed to Portland as a curator for the Portland Art Museum. A lot of ink was spilt on their goals in curating, contrasting their styles and beliefs ... and the clothes they wore. There were interviews and panels, exchange and enquiries.

It was also around this time that I started believing that in today's art world, the curator is far more important than the artist.

A lot of independent artists and spaces had popped up, and PICA had not really kept abreast of developments. PICA's director, Kristy Edmunds, was even quoted saying: "We need to regain that connection."

I remember when Horodner first hit town. I was advised to introduce myself and my work, as it was made known that he was looking at the local flavors, trying to ascertain just exactly what art in Portland was. He kept me waiting for a very long time. The whole thing felt like dentistry: necessary but unpleasant.

I don't need to tell you that the art world is rarely a warm and fuzzy place.

Not long after, a group show to demonstrate Horodner's take on the local scene was exhibited. The walls were graced by some of Portland's finest – but I have plenty of opportunity to see those artists, year in and year out like clockwork, in the likes of Portland's gallery system.

If a nonprofit space will not venture out to present that which is not "anointed" – who will?

This question was perfectly answered by D.K. Row in the Oregonian article, when he observed how "... artist-driven spaces had undercut PICA's original role."

But whatever undercutting the independents accomplished, it was not without attempts to welcome PICA to the party! PICA may not have even had to "reach out," as they admitted they had somehow failed to do.

They could have just shown up every once in a while.

In my time at my own little art space, Lovelake, I have never seen one PICA person (and there are many of them!). Cards for every single show were mailed out. But, hey, I'm just one little hole-in-the-wall gallery. Fact is, I never saw them at other holes-in-the-wall either.

OK, maybe I've seen The Powers That Be at Liz Leach or Tracy Savage galleries. I'm sorry; those kinds of places don't count. They count for many, many things in the art world of this town and we need and want them, but they are not everything – certainly not any accurate measure of what great ideas lurk in various studios.

In fact, I should think that once artists reach that level of anointment, they might not be the natural fodder for PICA. But clearly, the opposite was the case. As PICA grew and became more ambitious and hungry for funds, it hooked up necessarily with those who have them. And those who have them – those with ambition and funds – are not necessarily suffering from underexposure.

Those who have them indeed have something to lose. This is not meant to ghettoize the stature of nonprofits. One is not doomed to obscurity or the gutter to stay hip or be relevant.

But clearly there is a bevy of interesting ideas brewing in this town – and from people who have not been anointed.

See more from Eva in our archives.

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