December 2006


Three Goddesses at Portland's Medical Dental Building1020 SW Taylor, currently named the Jaffery Center Building – formerly known as the Medical Arts Building – was designed by Houghtaling & Dougan architects, probably in the 1920s, contains offices of the Portland Baroque Symphony, the Oregon State Bar, and dozens of therapy types. It’s quiet, central, nondescript and the Taylor Street windows on the upper floors have wonderful views of the huge elm trees outside of the Central Library.

At the cornices of the building are these goddesses. Who? Perhaps we can guess.

Not the Moiroe – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropus, the Fates. They are always shown with their specific symbols – a loom, a balance, a spinal of thread. Not the Gorgons, born old, sadly shared one tooth and one eye between them.

Three sister goddesses, Hestia, Hera and Demeter, join their three brother gods, Posidon, Zeus and Hades, as the first Olympian gods.

At the left, is Hestia, goddess of home and hearth, lazily holding her younger brother Hermes’ magical staff, the Caduceus, here without wings. The notation should be the task of Hermes was to lead the dead to the underworld. Hestia is modest but the longest lived of all Greek gods – her symbol might be in your home now as the feminine andirons in your fireplace. Why does she hold the Caduceus? Dunno.

In the center is Hera, the white-armed, cow-eyed sister-wife of Zeus, Queen of Olympus, goddess of marriage, and as the stories go, of those cuckolded. She’s holding a tube, which has been broken. Perhaps a scroll?

Holding a skull at the right is Demeter, mother of Demeter, and mother in law of her brother Hades. She is goddess of the harvest, bringer of the seasons, of transformation, of agriculture, of sustenance, of fertility. A powerful ancient goddess.

I like to think the skull is the remains of Ascalapus, the first doctor, who became so good at his craft he could bring the dead back to life. Hades complained to Zeus of Ascalapus interrupting natural order – souls weren’t arriving on time, and Zeus brought down Ascalapus with a lightning bolt.

Once in the underworld, Ascalapus witnessed Persephone eat the pomegranate pips and told Demeter. Considering Demeter’s first instinct finding her daughter stolen by Hades was to destroy the world, holding Ascalapus’ skull shows modest temperance on her part.

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Brian Goldbloom's Chinese Dragon, 3rd & NW DavisAmboy Washington artist Brian Goldbloom has installed two more pieces to his Chinese Dragons artwork, now ragged on by every pundit in Portland.

PPA first wrote about this dustup as “Chinese” Dragons – bad job all around and again in Chasing the Meaning of Public Artwork, where the more meaningful meaning of the artworks was defined. The daily paper, local shoppers, and art + pop culture blogs have underlined the limited capacity of the work.

The first two, in red granite on NW Fourth Avenue at Davis, depict a stainless steel structure atop an off-white stone dais. Caught in the tight grip of one structure is the neck of a small, wacked dragon; on the opposite, only a severed neck protrudes. Below is various “Asian” debris, both patronizing and ignorant, a duck head, a chicken head, a pocket calculator arrayed with an abacus. Other stuff.

Brian Goldbloom's Chinese Dragon, 3rd & NW Davis, close upDuds happen, but it must be additionally painful for the bureaucrats and “advisory panel” to know more of Goldbloom’s “Chinese Lanterns” are due to be installed, with it’s bad taste carved in weatherproof stone. These are complicated artworks to install and take time, but time with a mixed or mangled message works against the vision – if there is one.

Two more Chinese Dragons have recently appeared and two more Chinese Dragons are due from Goldbloom’s studio. These two are both of the severed neck variety, and in gray granite. One is on NW Third and Flanders, outside the Royal Palm Hotel, the other at NW Third and Davis. Both will have opposing artworks installed soonish, and a final set looks to be installed at NW Fourth and Flanders.

Brian Goldbloom's Chinese Dragon, 3rd & NW Flanders(Years ago Chinese business leaders gave Eric Sten serious grief for giving the Royal Palm Hotel to a community mental health center, figuring crazy people were bad luck and would jinx their cockroach-ridden tourist-trap restaurants and firetrap hotels. Since then, thousands of people have moved off the streets thanks to Sten and the Royal Palm.)

The gray granite set are completely unremarkable artworks aside from the clusters of content, as with the red granite set, under the dragon’s severed neck.

Brian Goldbloom's Chinese Dragon, 3rd & NW Flanders, close up of palm pilotUnder 3rd & Flanders gray granite severed neck is a set of dog tags and a 1942 internment order for Japanese citizens, which together cover a baseball bat. A single slipper. An overturned rice bowl – definitely bad luck and definitely kitsch.

Did Japanese internees wear dog tags? I have no idea. But the folks I connect who wore dog tags were GIs. A baseball bat? Why a baseball bat? Japanese = baseball?

Under 3rd & Davis is a real mystery – it appears to be a streetcar rail set in a ballast stone street, with a Palm Pilot. Is that what it is?

A Palm Pilot? As Matt Davis would write, “WTF?”

Anyway, more Chinese Dragons are coming so stay tuned.

Dead MoonRetired. Who would have imagined that? Dead Moon hangs it up after 20 years and a lot of miles.

Lollipop ShoppeIf you’re a Dead Moon fan and haven’t heard You Must Be A Witch, by the Lollipop Shoppe, start there and don’t overlook a key moment in the development of rock & roll. It’s not the standard 4 4 beat, it’s not the lyrics swiped from The Sonics, it’s not the faux hippie garb or the long locks and handsome faces of the boys; it’s something completely different. It’s tense regret, suffering, teen angst, the mindshit of stalkers.

The sound is earlier incarnation of Fred Cole, from the beginning of his long career – but you can hear his unquenchable fire, deep inside.

Listen – download You Must Be A Witch, by The Lollipop Shoppe, from the 1968 Just Colour.

Fred Cole, his wife and partner, Toody, and Andrew Loomis have been churning out intense, powerful rock & roll as Dead Moon without reservation or fame fantasies, touring regularly to new fans and old.

Fred’s history is well chronicled at the Dead Moon web site. I count over 60 releases by Fred since 1964, and dozens as Dead Moon. Quite amazing endurance.

Video below shows Dead Moon push through It’s Ok, September 2006. Made popular by Pearl Jam, it’s a song of affirmation and resignation, of teen heroics, of space age platitudes; definitely a post-Beach Boys / pre-Wipers world. (Vedder misunderstands the tune, channeling Everly Brothers instead of Fred Cole – just awful.)

Forty years on a thousand stages and Fred Cole’s passion and intensity hasn’t changed a bit – as is true with all great artists, the unquenchable fire burns.

You know I love you anyway
It’s ok
It’s ok
You don’t have to run and hide away

October 20, 1998 is when it happened. Dickie Dow had been sick for a while – crazy sick. He stopped taking medicine, probably in Spring, and at first things seemed better – clearer. He slept less, ate less and thought a lot more. His mother gave him herb tea, at best a placebo, praying it would work. They both knew it wouldn’t.

Dickie Dow MemorialIn August there had been an argument with the store manager at Fred Meyer. Case workers were contacted and Dow was discussed in staff meetings. Did anyone go see Dow? Maybe, probably not. A home visit probably seemed too difficult, too unpredictable, a problem too unfixable.

It started with shouts – a spooked security guard called 911. After a predictable scrum of cops, batons, swirling lights, screams and handcuffs, Dickie Dow was killed Portland Police officers, in front of his parents, neighbors and friends.

Dickie Dow MemorialThe cops involved were exonerated by a grand jury. Experts testified, advocates marched, lawyers negotiated, politicians promised. Quietly all by itself the mental health system collapsed (though some would point to the abrupt closing of the Garlington Center as the true tipping point).

But nothing changed. Nothing really.

Dow’s forgotten memorial, a small plaque set between two tangled rose bushes, adjoins a littered bus stop on busy Lombard Boulevard at N. Fenwick.

In loving memory of Richard “Dickie” Dow
We all miss you so much. May the roses bloom for you forevermore.

See – Portland Police Shooting Incidents – 1990 – 2006

Pressure is mounting to reconsider Brian Goldbloom of Amboy, Washington’s contribution to Chinese culture in Portland – his newly mounted Chinese Dragon.

See “Chinese” Dragons – bad job all around from 12.5.2006.

Portland Public Art(Perhaps it has another name, but Chinese Dragon seems better to me – especially if the emphasis is on Chinese. Perhaps it is a comment on Magritte’s, or perhaps on Foucault’s, This is Not a Pipe.)

Matt Davis of the Mercury tries art crit (gee it is the Mercury) Chasing the Dragon Arts Council May Remove “Offensive” Sculpture.

Chinese DragonOf course, missing is the basic irony, for thirty years 4th and NW Davis has been far more widely known as great spot to score heroin – not decent Chinese food.

According to Davis, Goldbloom “pitched it as a piece that reflects the diversity of the area.” Aha right! The old Chinese slang “chasing the dragon” rears its dangerous head.

Businesses are predominantly Caucasian owned and operated. Few if any Chinese people live in the area. Attempts to revive Chinese tourist businesses flounder. We say “Chinatown” either in historical context or with a smirk.

But tar heroin remains popular, and without the intervention of the Afghani Taliban, flows effortlessly through our well-guarded ports. Hooper Detox remains packed, as do public and private heroin treatment centers, jails, prisons, hospitals and cemeteries.

Too bad Davis couldn’t tie his art crit to his cop beat, with The Naming Game Cops Name and Shame Downtown Drug Dealers. Missed opportunity to be smarmy.

Skid Row in Portland has been a vice district for over a century, and both Chinese and Caucasian businesses have profited mightily from cheap rent and notoriety. We wouldn’t want to change a thing – but the coincidence causes and interesting aesthetic question: does the meaning of artwork exist outside of it’s context?

Read – Chasing the Dragon: Into the Heart of the Golden Triangle, by Christopher Cox, based on a longish interview with Khun Sa, warlord of poppy fields in Burma.

Long brutal review of the Portland Art Museum’s newish Mark Building by California curator Marshall Astor on his blog Double Sided Double Density skewers the building as “80% rental hall and fundraising space and 10% multi-story, crammed art hallway.”

The additional 10%, I assume, is the Crumpacker Library, and the exquisite penthouse offices the Buchanans built for themselves prior to fleeing before the fiscal year-end report revealed massive construction cost overruns on the front page of the local paper.

Ahh the unpleasant truth – told by outsiders – is the new building, the product of a decade of fundraising – is a castle dedicated, not to art, but to raising even more money. The tipping point formula – more time spent preparing for fun than having fun. Now you’re boring – the greatest curse of the arts.

It’s an essential activity, while enjoying the insular virtues of this provincial village, regardless of your trade, to correspond with the outside world – to read, to talk, to listen, to consider opinions outside of local comfortable, familiar voices.

See Dear Portland Museum of Art, Your design sucketh. Sincerely, Marshall Astor

World War II brought a hoard of working class folk to work in Portland’s Kaiser shipyards, building liberty ships to ferry cargo all over the world. For many, Vanport, Oregon was home. Spring rains in 1948 brought down a dike holding back the Columbia river, and in just a few hours the city of up to 50,000 people, many of whom were African American, was gone.

Vanport Oregon – 1942, before the flood (where Delta Park is now).

Vanport, Oregon – May 1948, fifteen people drowned, thousands left homeless.

Title of the tapestry above, located in the collection of Fort Vancouver Tapestry Panels, is Alcoa continues operating behind dikes during the Vanport flood.

Columbia Villa, a public housing village off North Fessenden, was built in part as a response to this disaster. But to tell our city’s history honestly, many Portlanders resented and resisted attempts to help these folks stay. With additional industries and a warmer welcome, Seattle and San Francisco both maintained African Americans after the war – but not Portland. Additional snubs of Klan gatherings, segregation by property sales, urban development in the middle of Albina – Emanuel Hospital + Interstate 5 plunked in the middle of Albina – made Portland one of the whitest cities in the nation.

In 2003, prompted by dozens of shootings, the Housing Authority of Portland launched the HOPE IV reconstruction of Columbia Villa, now renamed New Columbia. Everyone was moved out, the old duplexes were razed and new two story homes, a new school, modern apartments, storefronts, a community center, parks and gardens were arranged and built. Though many people have moved in, construction is ongoing.

Cultural sensitivity clearly was a foremost concern during planning and execution. The result looks excellent – everything is clean and neat and sturdy and waiting for everyone to come home. The housing mix of 852 units include public housing, affordable rental housing, elderly housing and homes for sale. An additional 92 public housing units are off-site.

With an approximate final cost of $30 million dollars, some art should have been been included. A little math? Two percent of $30 million is $600,000. Quite a chuck of change. Because costs of RACC purchased artwork is not published, we can only estimate how $600,000 was spent.

Three ornate aluminum gates to an unused community garden (most community gardens use cyclone fencing at best – $55 for a 50 foot roll at nearby hardware), named after former County chair Gladys McCoy.

Estimated ornate aluminum gates cost @ $10,000 each – $30,000

Local guides showed me the iron sculptures by Nigerian born artist Mufu Ahmed (right), who also designed 22 benches with squirrel or salmon motifs.

Estimated cost of 22 benches @ $5000 each – $110,000.

The both the gecko and the “half tiger half monkey” (above) are clear favorites, around the corner is a heron is a similar style.

Estimated cost of three iron animal sculptures $10,000 each – $30,000

What my short friends didn’t like was a gigantic plane tree, uprooted, stripped, turned upside down, bolted to cement blocks, and crowned with a ring of sharp metal. To me it’s just a vaguely evil imago (wasn’t St. Peter crucified head down?) But to local children the 25+ foot tall sculpture is a dread spider, which can be seen from a thousand windows ringing an open field.

Artist Fernanda D’Agostino created Ancestor Tree from a London plane tree felled during construction. She lists $400,000 in payment for Ancestor Tree on her resume.

Much of D’Agostino’s work litters the public paths surrounding Columbia Boulevard Waste Water Treatment Plant, across Columbia Blvd from New Columbia. Other local guides squired me through the bicycle paths and on to Smith & Bybee Lakes where more of D’Agostino’s artwork imitates actual wildlife – except extracted, inspected by space aliens, and set back in place. “She must be a fan of Riven,” one of the younger set acutely observed.

The Kandis Brewer Nunn Community Education Center (who, you say? Why the current chair of the HAP Board, administrator of The Jordan & Mina Schnitzer Foundation and director of Harsch Investment’s marketing communications) closed and dark on a weekend afternoon.

The place is a bit empty – a village built without a population. Waiting for its diaspora to return.

More of the story.

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