UPDATE – 1/12/2007 – Artist calls for revising of dragon – Oregonian, The artist says he wants to ensure that the public art reflects the values of Chinese Americans


RACC’s Chinese Dragons problem is dragging along – and there’s no end in site.

Monday night over 200 people gathered at the Legin Restaurant ballroom to hear what RACC was going to do about the offensive and obtuse Chinese Dragons, installed at four locations in Old Town. Four more artworks commissioned by RACC for the Portland Development Commission and created by Brian Goldbloom will be installed soon. As Portland Public Art has previously listed, the artwork fails in several fundamental respects – an opinion the preponderance of the room shared.

RACC employed the city’s new civil solution – a pointless “listening session” where testimony from cranks and creeps is patiently, passively and patronizingly collected, collated, culled and chucked. The goal is to assess political damage, identify troublemakers and allow hot air to vent.

RACC staff blandly recited the project pathway to date, and patiently waited for two Chinese translators to make sense of it for the audience, largely made up of hostile Chinese. The nadir of the meeting was a RACC admin restating the city + PDC funded agency’s process for selecting the artist / artwork was successful, in opposition to the clear testimony from the articulate and concerned citizens.

Brian Goldbloom bravely joined the RACC admins to explain his engagement with the RACC process. Many attendees thanked Goldbloom for appearing, but none thanked him for the artwork.

The apex was brilliantly missed by most attending – that 200 Chinese people, working class folk mixed with artists, business owners and intellectuals, all equally and adequately participated in a direct political action, and an action which respected art, powerful symbols and traditional meanings. No one was bullied, no threats were made, no accusations hurled.

The message from the Chinese community was clear: 1. RACC failed to provide adequate Chinese representation on the artwork’s advisory committee, 2. The artwork fails to understand basic cross-Chinese-cultural symbols, 3. The artwork should be removed.

RACC has a policy for deaccessing – fancy talk for removing – public artwork, which is an often a politicize issue which should not bend to current trends. In the merciless dialog of Portland Mercury blog, RACC admin Jeff Hawthorne wrote,

Yes in fact the policy reads “Deaccessioning SHOULD be considered only after ten years have elapsed…” partly to protect artworks that are interpreted more favorably as time passes (the Washington Monument and Vietnam Memorial, both in Washington DC, are good examples of public artworks that were widely regarded as atrocious when they first appeared). But that’s deliberately written for guidance, not as binding policy. Clearly the Chinese Dragon is an extraordinary situation, and the fact that it is offensive to many cultures brings a level of urgency that’s unusual for public art.

(I was helped with a wonderful memory of seeing a Chinese opera troupe perform in this same ballroom in the early 1970s, an explosion of color and sound and fantastic theatre which I think Portland has not seen the same since.)

Chinatown sculpture drawing scorn – KATU – See VIDEO

Deaccessing Policy – RACC

Dragon design prompts roar in Chinatown – Oregonian

“Deaccessioning” Chinatown’s dragons could take ten years – Portland Mercury