September 2006

“Let a thousand flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend,” said Mao Tse Tung, setting a political trap for intellectuals and art gadflies in the middle of the last century. Now wrapped in affluence, safety and acclaim, Portland art youth are about to throw one of their larger annual parties.

Without Mao to keep them in check, Portland’s artists must contend and compete for your attention and your wallet.

Crowds will be attending the Alberta Street Fair tomorrow – September 16, running along Alberta from about 7th Avenue to 33rd. Parking is complicated so bring walking shoes and be nice to the neighbors.

Robin Corbo and a team of about 60 helpers have quickly create a enormous mural on the Community Cycling Center. Sponsored by RACC, the mural is filled with happy faces on two and three wheeled machines. A great, colorful, fun mural for a great organization.

But as you walk and gape, recognize the city bureaucrats use public art as a colonizing tool to “celebrate diversity” and forge a new community using artists as urban pioneers. Once the real estate rolls over the arts tools can be cast aside – artists are transient and unorganized; as the strip gentrifies the problem transforms and the problem management shifts as well.

The intention of the artwork is to acknowledge the difference, and the artwork is matched in expense by PDC’s storefront development program, and hundreds of public and private meetings to process the decision and lull advocates against change to sleep.

Largely forgotten is Lillian Pitt and Roslyn Hill’s Cultural Totem which blocks the street at 14th Avenue. This eight-foot pillar of concrete with doodles serves as a beginning, I guess. Behind it you can see another community mural from a prior year, defaced with graffiti.

Across the intersection, is a arrangement of 4 x 4 inch tiles of a Alberta Arts Fair of the past – quite nice but starting to fall apart. The weather is taking it’s toll.

For additional two-wheel + danger = fun, look for Chunk 666 at about 20th Avenue.

One of the stalwart pioneers on Alberta has been Lam Quang and the Hi ih Gallery. Wonderful handmade lamps and small sculptures with paper, bamboo and light.

Be sure to see hundreds if not thousands of other Portland Public Art pictures on our Photo Archive. Look for Alberta Street artwork in the NE Portland section of the archive.

Alberta Arts District

Alberta Street Fair

Arts on Alberta

Review of the arts scene on Alberta by from the PSU Vanguard

Links for dozens of Alberta businesses.


More pure pop music for cool kids like you and me.

Meet The Thermals, Kathy, Hutch and now Lorin. And a little bit of Fugazi’s Brendan Canty – way in the background.

Nice folk from Portland, maintaining the rockin tradition, imagine if Lou Barlow and Mark Arm started a band together, this week heading out for another national tour, fronting the Sub Pop CD The Body, The Blood, The Machine. The tune here is A Pillar of Salt. Release party at the Wonder Ballroom on September 16 and you’re invited.

Next stop – Missoula. And damit – stop by Fargo & see Kelly Hagen.

Here’s the new Portland economic theory. Fish + logs + pelts + cheap electricity are out; creatives (advertising + marketing + designing + announcing + advocating + defining + creating + divining) are in. If you’re still on the out side = trouble.

Pitchfork interview with Hutch Harris of The Thermals

While we wait for the City and Clear Channel to come to terms with a regulatory agreement separating fine art from commercial art, the flow of enterprise waits for no one.

(Everyone consider a small prayer for Judge Marcus on October 2, the next trial date in the ongoing suit, Clear Channel Outdoor v City of Portland at the Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland, Oregon.)

Charlie Alan Kraft, illustrator of monsters and dead toys for adults (I think) has painted up an abandoned building on North Williams Avenue. The grotesque cartoons were laid out in spray paint in July, and recently filled in with housepaint, covering two sides of the one-story building, located on a relatively busy intersection. The artwork is unfinished.

Kraft’s web site is included as some sort of signature to the piece. That’s interesting – and to me a “good enough” line in the sand to determine this artwork is commercial art – and not fine art. The addition of a URL, signage to visit a web site dedicated to selling Kraft’s artwork, makes the work advertising. If there is a cost associated with creating commercial artwork, the City attorney should dun Kraft immediately.

Part of Michael Marcus’ dilemma in deciding Clear Channel Outdoor v City of Portland is to evaded the undergrad morass of “what is art?” There’s just no advantage to determining this – it’s all art. His question is – how do we maintain two separate business models, one for commercial art, aka advertising, and fine art, aka mural artwork?

Clearly Kraft’s artwork is designed to sell to a youngish, arts gateway crowd which affiliates more with Boing Boing than with RACC. His attitude – I am guessing – is a shrug – “You don’t like it? Tear it down!”

This post-RACC business model is renegade and springs from graffiti not art school, though it’s commonly incorporated by art students and gadflies everywhere. And the style works for Kraft and others who make it quick and dirty. Others, contemplative or complex or non-disposable, are mown over by the style and by the fine+commercial hybrid business model. You see – art can’t be regulated, but it can be demolished.


Standing Up for Art – Mural Painter Intervenes in Clear Channel Lawsuit, Portland Mercury

Multnomah County Court Docket

Columbia River Crystal, by David Morris – son of the late Portland artists Hilda & Carl Morris, Reedie ’67, and repped by Laura Russo. Did he go to Skyline Grade School? No, probably Catlin. What an important decision that turned out to be!

A large bronze sculpture, painted black, bought by Pete Mark in 1997 for Crown Plaza – an average office building on First Avenue in downtown Portland. The surrounding environment of tan stone, dark glass and city streets diminish the artwork considerably, a reduction to average and drab.

What’s interesting is the amount of security watching the artwork. Was the security part of the plan, or an afterthought? Were the cameras (which, like all cameras, at least in theory have a human watching them somewhere) agreed on in the artist contract? Clearly adds cost to ownership – does it add value to the work? Add to the aesthetic experience?

Are there equivalent cameras watching other Portland public artworks? Do you think that’s interesting – people paid to watch public artwork? Should PNCA have a special class for these security guards (and their current students destined for duty as docents somewhere…)

From the pedestrian bridge

From a structural column.

From a stairwell.

One of three visible peeking over the rooftops.

Reality TV tramps Supernova are clearly headed for the cutout bin circuit shortly, leaving Portland’s Storm Large loose and contract free, ready to sign for the fattest cash in the land.

After ten weeks of floating amidst pop dreck (they had her sing Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive for snap’s sake), Storm is crossed off the list of propective lead singers tonight.

Losing will suit her fine. Millions have now seen her talent and a few will start dialing for dollars. Expect anything. carries all her performances, available for reviewing anytime. Virtual reality TV on broadband is much better than the real thing.

Week One – Pinball Wizard – The Who
Week Two – Surrender – Cheap Trick
Week Three – Just What I Needed – The Cars
Week Four – Anything Anything – Dramarama
Week Five – Changes – David Bowie
Week Six – We Are the Champions – Queen
Week Seven – I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
Week Eight – Cryin’ – Aerosmith
Week Nine – Bring Me To Life – Evanescence & Helter Skelter – The Beatles
Week Ten – Suffragette City – David Bowie & Ladylike – Storm Large

After three decades of “percent for the arts” programs, we the wandering public get no impact from the obligatory plopping of a sturdy large symbolic structure in front of each and all public buildings. It’s a nice welfare program for artists, but as with all predictable gifts, the grateful interaction (expressed best by making worthwhile work) between artist and public-as-represented-by-arts-committee slowly evaporates.

One of the most interesting academic offices in Portland is the newish Food Innovation Center, part of Oregon State University, on Front Avenue just North of the Broadway Bridge (1207 NW Naito Parkway). If you seek corporate glory with your kitchen creations, this might be the place to enroll and not the lowbrow Western Culinary.

Outside abutting the parking lot is a large structure of a stainless steel cone, about fourteen feet across at the top and eighteen inches at the bottom. It’s thick but doesn’t make an interesting bell sound. It’s mounted on four columnar boulders, which somehow muffles the tone.

In the ground below the cone, catching rainwater is a sewer grate.

As I approached the cone early on a Sunday morning, I noticed someone had tossed a stripped fir branch into the cone.

Stepping back, the artwork is called Valley and was made by Minneapolis sculptor Janet Lofquist, and of course selected by a jury after a nationwide RFP. There is a second piece inside the FIC, Preserved, inside on a lobby wall. Being Sunday, I didn’t see that part.

According to FIC, “Together these works represent where the Food Innovation Center is located – the Willamette Valley surrounded by the mountains, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Adams – and what we do at the Food Innovation Center – working to create value-added, preserved consumer foods from the agricultural crops produced from around the state.”

Excuses understood, the work is entirely uninteresting, aside from the unstated fact OSU was obligated by percent-for-the-arts to make an arts purchase based on construction costs. Did the jury include the FIC construction project manager, the parking lot sweeper, the insurance underwriter? Clearly maintenance, subject blandness and longevity were primary considerations.

In an RFP system, artists can’t truly be held responsible for junk such as this – market forces bring saleable work forward. It’s the arts administrator advising the project who is wholly responsible in this instance for undermining both craft and beauty.

And sadly for FIC they’re stuck with it. Soon, probably now, the artwork has already been deleted from the engaged mind of staff and regular visitors. It’s only occasionally visitors and local wanders who are struck by the inappropriateness and basic junkiness of the work. We it startles, and first impressions are important. And the artwork will last forever. Without a dedicated and probably secret plan to remove the piece with a midnight bulldozer, considering the elements of heavy stone & stainless steel, the artwork will stay, in a riverside parking lot, for ten thousand years.

Photos and an installation summary of Janet Lofquist’s artwork.

Oh, the stick? I thought to remove it, set it aside. I reached for it and was surprised and even more disappointed to discover it is cast metal and attached quite firmly in the Valley.

John Paulding, American sculptor, 1883 – 1935, made and sold dozens of lively bronze sculptures of US World War I soldiers, called doughboys, and sold them to various patriotic post-war clubs, American Legion Halls and the like. This one, Over the Top at Cantigny, arrived in 1926 and is set over a couple of public toilets, near Pig N’ Pancake, on the main drag in Astoria, recently overwhelmed by traffic and the far more interesting Astoria-Megler Bridge.

They all look about the same, from the pictures online.

The soldier is depicted as charging from a trench, through barbed wire with rifle raised (probably wasn’t drilled to attack in this manner.) The style is dull and mechanical.

There are some flowers, a marble bench, a US flag with a MIA POW flag. And of course the public toilet.

The bridge is really impressively big. While in Astoria, also tune in to their great public radio station KMUN, visit Bach N’ Rock which somewhat successfully mixes CDs and pets, and the Astoria Column, a truly weird and wonderful public art byproduct of industrial wealth.

Imagine Port Townsend without good restaurants or hotels.

Overwrought but brief biography of Paulding.

Some of Paulding’s papers are at the U of Michigan.

Doughboy Center – The Story of the American Expeditionary Forces

Earl D. Goldsmith’s Spirit of the American Doughboy Database

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