a changing Portland
Art-district report card
been watching Portland change and grow for the last six years.
The city changes weekly and, now that the city is
on the verge of reinventing itself culturally, it's a good time
to take stock of the various art districts.
Five years ago "the Pearl" used to be a beautiful
urban ghost town with lots of galleries and studios. Now it's
about half full of condos with lots more galleries and a lot fewer
studios. The net result? There are thousands of new walls that
need stuff hung on them.
Good paintings and photography seem to be selling
very well. It's heartening that only the better work seems to
sell. The question is, are these real collectors or simply acquirers?
Logic would dictate that a few might become more serious. Being
a serious collector requires a lot of information and experience.
Such experience isn't easy to come by and the only strong candidate
would be the Portland Art Museum's Contemporary Art Council, which
takes trips and visits studios and galleries (note: I'm on its
This development of more serious collectors is important
because the success or failure of the Pearl increasingly serves
as the barometer of Portland's strengthening claims to being the
only major city on the West Coast where visual art is king.
|Elizabeth Leach Gallery... before it got busy. Seriously.
The city's main artwalk, First Thursday, starts in
the Pearl but two adjacent arts districts (Chinatown and downtown)
also take part. First Thursday's crowds are a liability, though,
and in many ways it means bigger business for the many Pearl restaurants
and bars than the galleries. Two years ago I curated a show in
a Pearl District gallery and it was a complete zoo. I can only
compare it to diving into a mosh pit. It's terrible for looking
at art, nice for seeing 10,000-plus art spectators.
Galleries have adjusted with First Wednesday previews,
but really there should be a way that some of the hospitality-industry
dollars can be used to fund national advertising promoting the
Pearl as a cultural district known for its galleries. It would
have synergistic effects for galleries, hotels, restaurants, shops
and bars. This has been a burning issue in my mind ever since
Condé Nast did a tour of Portland and managed to visit
the Pearl without mentioning that it is a gallery district.
I do find it very interesting that no less than three
banks are doing rotating art shows in their spaces but, if you
want to go beyond schlock, get some expert help. Maybe a full-time
curator is overkill, so I'd suggest getting ahold of one of the
sharper artists in town to curate their peers.
Also, it isn't unheard of for big banks to create
small, high-quality art galleries with a part- or full-time curator
and I'd like to see one of these new banks take on that kind of
project. Also, everyone in the Pearl should recognize that the
Pacific Northwest College of Art has no fewer than five galleries
open to the public on its campus; all are free and open seven
days a week.
What needs work: still too many galleries bloated
with midlevel artists well past their best days; also, this major
district lacks a major national-level art exhibition institution.
A kunsthalle is needed, although PNCA's Feldman Gallery periodically
does the trick.
|Artist Zanapon with film crew at Compound Gallery.
This area directly east of the Pearl has steadily
grown in strength as an art district. In fact, it has the greatest
concentration of galleries in the city. Sure, most of them are
scrappier than the blue chip Pearl, but it is definitely fun.
For years the 16 artist-operated Everett
Station Loft galleries have held down the fort and the established
Butters Gallery moved into a space near the onetime PCVA Hall.
But now Ogle, Compound, Motel and backspace (all hybrid retail
outfits with dedicated gallery spaces) have applied the super-flat
leveling of commerce and fine art successfully.
Motel has become an increasingly serious gallery,
with a well-defined aesthetic that some of the blue chip galleries
might learn a thing or two from.
|Epitome gallerist Niky Kriara Peterson.
With the Chinese garden and the looming possibility
that the new Portland Art Center will move here as well, Chinatown
is hip but spotty. So far it's more punk style than substance
... very East Village meets Otaku.
It should be noted that the Everett Station Lofts
have been becoming more serious again, with a solid show by proprietor
Niky Kriara Peterson at the larger, recently moved Epitome Gallery.
Pepper Gallery will also be moving into larger digs and I'm very
curious to see what this new wave of young Portland artists comes
More artists just keep coming and having a good ESL
loft show is an established way to get noticed.
What needs work: more ESL galleries need to be more
serious and open at least on Saturdays.
|Daniel Kaven: too heavy handed at Gallery 500, but still
worth the trip.
Although a mass exodus to the Pearl District has been
threatened, Augen, Froelick and a few others hold down the fort
500 has become an increasingly serious venue but has yet to
develop a stable beyond Daniel Kaven, whose July solo show, Divorce,
is ambitious if slightly too literal. A chop saw is a pretty heavy-handed
metaphor for a divorce. Still, it's a good show from a developing
The gallery has become the place, though where
else can you see Raymond Pettibon play righteous punk rock on
a black Les Paul?
Last but not least, the new Chambers Gallery opened
to an energetic crowd, from octogenarians to skaters, and it was
interesting to see such diversity. This gallery's stable is also
up for grabs.
What needs work: strong artists' stables need to be
defined; other galleries need new blood to liven things up.
Eastside Arts District (CEAD)
|Zack Kircher takes on Elizabeth Peyton at Savage Art
This newly named arts district has tons of industrial
studio spaces and has hosted a majority of the most significant
art events in recent Portland history: Donut Shop 1, Affair
@ the Jupiter Hotel, the Best Coast, Meeting People, Process
and, most recently, Taking Place which kicked off in July.
The Hall Gallery (620 SE 3rd) has been the site of many of the
more interesting warehouse shows in town.
When Savage Art Resources located here it sparked
a rash of art-space openings: the New American Art Union, Newspace,
Holocene and Portland Art Center.
and PAC have nice
spaces but have yet to find curatorial voices that don't seem
underdeveloped and gimmicky in a W.C. Fields kind of way.
Sometimes they work, though. And this month, NAAU's
Joe Macca show was hilarious and took risks. Newspace has also
been putting on excellent shows lately and I'm waiting to see
how well the new Lint Gallery does.
Art Resources is by far the most sophisticated player here
and often offers both cutting-edge verve and refinement that I
wish I'd see more of in the Pearl. They've weathered a disastrous
gallery closing in the Pearl and everyone is curious to see if
they'll start representing more of the sophisticated young bloods
in town. The last two shows, by Jacqueline Ehlis and Zack Kircher,
have set the local standard to beat. Others have had some strong
works but the shows weren't as sustained.
Lastly, the second annual Affair @ the Jupiter Hotel
art fair will be quite the event Sept. 30, with lots of national
galleries, white columns and Mona Hatoum.
The gallery walk is the first Friday of every month.
What needs work: sparse and inconsistent; go to Savage
first then decide who else steps up.
Let's make this short. Last Thursday is a street party
with one worthy stop: Guardino Gallery. The area isn't so serious
and seems determined to stay that way.
|The John Ross in the South Waterfront.
It isn't even built yet, but this $2 billion development
of Vancouver, B.C.- style razor towers doesn't have any preexisting
community and probably needs some high-end visual art gallery
space to legitimize and liven up what will be the king of the
high-rise condo districts.
The condos are selling like crazy.
People want to be here, but it isn't Portland if visual
arts are not visible in a high-rent district.
Portland is growing up fast.