Remember “informal” and “murky”? Still the operating principle in the City of Portland art purchases. And – it’s completely complicated inserting art into architecture, or getting artists and architects to work together. There are examples around town where art works with it’s surroundings – or is neutral like Georgia Gerber’s wonderful water animals on the transit mall – but the more common result is a collision.

Judy Pfaff’s large fiberglass and metal sculpture attached to the ODS building downtown is the most horrendous example. Just feel sorry for everyone. Ruined, perverted. I’ve been avoiding writing about this – Randy Gragg wrote about this conflict, and Pfaff’s piece in the Oregonian when it was unveiled in 2000. Ilan Averbuch’s installation at the east end of the Broadway Bridge is another example. The first impression of the artwork is RACC (in 1995) was too cheap to mail Averbuch a Polaroid of the site.

Well, yesterday RACC sent out a press release announcing the unveiling of a sculpture of former Portland mayor Vera Katz. A minor comment on the work – the press release neither included an image of the artwork or the name of the artist. Uh oh – red flag.

Don’t assume politics. I think Vera was a great mayor (and we’re really on a streak of great mayors – considering Portland’s history!)

I would like to see some sort of artistic commemoration of both Neil Goldschmidt who just about single-handedly saved this town from becoming Spokane, and of Bud Clark. Henk Pander did a classic portrait of Bud near the end of his term. I’d love to know where that picture is now.

Both KATU and OPB forgot to mention the artist or comment on the work. The Oregonian, KGW, KOIN, KXL, et al forgot to show up.

The plaque hasn’t been installed yet. The signature on the bronze is “R W B######” just a scrawl. Well, we’ll find out eventually. I guess it doesn’t matter.

UPDATE – JUNE 7 – The artist of the Vera Katz sculpture is Bill Bane of Newberg.

What matters is the artwork. It’s meant to fit into the environment, and to some extent it does. Vera is a small person (actually I think this body is circa 1975 and the face is circa 1990) and her sculpture is small too. Accessible. You’ll see over the decades plenty of snapshots of tourists posing, sitting side by side. The face is recognizable, lips, teeth, brow, all similar.

You’re trotting along, minding your own business, and hey! There’s Vera. Rain or shine.

The pose is a big problem. The face is open and engaged, both listening and expressing, but her body is a knot, clenched, tight, crossed up. Actually the teeth are clenched, she clenches a handkerchief in her hand, legs are crossed – she is accessible – to a point.

If the pose expresses the message, and form follows function, this artwork should have taken the form of a snarky letter to a local libertarian blog. Not a $70,000 (my estimate, RACC doesn’t make purchase costs public) bronze sculpture.

Following from the awkward and uninformative pose is the choice of clothing. She’s dressed in sensible shoes, plain pants and an anonymous jacket – no expression. A high collar swaths her neck. A set of gravity defying pearls. A dead rose pinned to her breast.

My theory is the artist worked from snapshots – and did not have Vera pose for the artwork. The pose might have looked great in 2-D, but fails completely in 3-D.

Go see it yourself. On the east bank of the downtown esplanade, now renamed the Vera Katz Esplanade just north of the fire station at the foot of the Hawthorne Bridge.

Advertisements