February 2008

This graphic clipped from Google Zeitgeist shows the marked increase in news articles with the key phrase “Portland art” in the text or headline.

Searches are set for all articles all years. The top graph is search volume, the lower graph is news reference volume. The letter flags mark particular articles / events. Clear measurement of the attention to Portland art? I don’t think so. What might be presumed from this scan is a downward trend of interest in geographically tied artwork from 2004 to 2008.

What needs to be parsed is the acceleration of the amount of media using all sorts of text. Google also doesn’t provide vertical measurement, so we must compare to comparable cities.

What about Boston? Google Boston art? (Search says “No news articles found.”)What about Seattle? Google Seattle art? What about San Francisco? Google San Francisco art? What about Dallas? Google Dallas art? (Search says “No news articles found.”)And, very predictable, what about Miami? Google Miami art?What about New York art? Google New York art?

I’ve first wrote about the Harvey Scott (d. 1910) sculpture by Gutzom Borglum on the top of Mount Tabor in SE Portland in 2005.

Borglum was the designer of Mount Rushmore.

The big bronze sculpture was commissioned in the 1930s by Scott’s widow and family, but is now maintained by RACC, who all agree is an agency spread thin.

Harvey Scott was editor and publisher of The Oregonian, a pioneer of sorts, and local character. His epitaph cut into the granite is “Molder of opinion / in Oregon / and the nation.”

(Actually Scott’s buried at River View Cemetery.)

This visit I notice considerable new corrosion on the bronze, streaking the figure’s face and body with lighter green threads. The corrosion is caused by acids in bird droppings and in rain, and has become pronounced, leaving the sculpture looking forgotten and dreary as it withdraws into the thick piney backdrop.

Too bad. And too bad The Oregonian hasn’t taken notice and offered to provide a the spit and polish required to make Harvey Scott look fresh and new again.

Rehabbing a big bronze would like Borglum’s would be expensive, would put a big dent in RACC’s annual fix-up budget. But the cost of a wash and careful coating with microcrystalline wax would be a trifle to The Oregonian, one of the most profitable newspapers in the nation. Total cost – $15,000, about 1/2 a page ad in Monday’s A section.

EXTRA – Tom Lehrer, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (mp3, click link to listen)

“Trunk Monkey” from r-west, a PR + ad firm in Portland. There are ten of them, made for a local auto dealer.

Television is about advertisements. The other content is just banal propaganda. Many / most viewers are confused by this and consider advertising to be annoying, boring, vacuous – and most is. Why? Because the cost of TV advertising is high and it’s effectiveness is difficult to measure. (Until guys like Alvin Achenbaum and other ad stats folks on Madison Avenue figured some formulas showing causal relationship between spot purchase and product purchase, TV revenue, like the internet now, was something of a guess-estimate.)

TV horizons widened, first with UHF, then cable, then competition from better distributed print media, then the internet, and now HDTV which could quadruple the bandwidth without additional content. In the circa 1972 Madison Avenue formula, the wider the bandwidth, the less effective the advertisement. Costs should correspondingly go down, so pressure is on the creatives to increase the quality of the ads themselves.

Frequent Portland performer, Olympia resident and rock legend Calvin Johnson was terrifically injured in an auto accident in Montana in 1993, breaking ribs and his shoulder, and injuring his brain.

Johnson, the genius behind K Records, a frequent contributor to the Lost Music Network and to OP Magazine, also fronted the seminal Beat Happening (which as I loosely remember was named after a painting by drummer Heather Lewis, Beatnik Happening), Dub Narcotic Squad and the Halo Benders, and there most likely are more I don’t know about.

Travis Nichols
writes, A punk-rock legend is back from serious injury with a new intensity, for the Seattle PI.

Black Candy – Beat Happening, from March of 1988.

If you’re unfamiliar with this genre, sometimes called lo-fi, or DIY, your might think, huh – are they retarded? No, all college graduates, and that might have been part of the issue.

Joey Ramone and Iggy Pop may have started punk rock, but both signed to major labels and veered immediately in the direction of higher sales.

KAOS radio’s station manager John Foster, in about 1980, redirected the station’s format to being largely non-commercial. Located at The Evergreen State College, KAOS marked all it’s LPs (that’s what we used to call CDs kiddies) with red tape on it’s spine for a commercial release, and green tape for a non-commercial release. The colored tape allowed DJs to quickly assess the amount of commercial music in their stack. Foster’s goal was to keep airplay of red line records to 20% or less per hour.

Foster argued a dominant percentage of radio came from a small number of sources creating a creative monopoly, pushing out new sounds, international music, music from minority groups, and anyone who didn’t kowtow to corporate culture. He was stunningly right.

Many and soon most DJs grokked this revolutionary notion and commercial airplay evaporated. Instead Olympia was treated to eclecticism, and with Calvin Johnson’s radio show, excellent pop music from all over the world and every eccentric garage.

There were other stations using the same method; I remember one at Fordham University, and another at the U of Washington. Foster wasn’t alone; pinpoints of radio revolution were happening at college stations across the country.

The punk rock ideal was access. Lower the stage – we can all get on. Lower the necessity of high musicianship – make it simpler. Get rid of the theatrics, the costumes, sets, lights, and fancy instruments of the time – a voice and a drum would do. Be simple, encourage the kids to join, make it fun, make money a non-issue, be emotional, be human, be alive, be collective.

The result was not only Beat Happening, but thousands of other kids started bands and took them on tour, wrote zines, made artwork, gave parties, opened clubs, started businesses, made movies, made apple pies, wrote books, and carried the message in an overtly non-commercial and subtly anti-authoritarian way.

EXTRA – INFO: FAQ from K Records
EXTRA – Wikipedia, The Music of Olympia
EXTRA – HistoryLink.org Rock Music–Seattle

Lois Lowry is the Newberry Medal Winner for two books, The Giver and Number the Stars

Tuesday, March 11, 2008, 7:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:15 p.m.
First Congregational Church 1126 S.W. Park Ave., Portland

Tickets: $10 Adult – $5 Student (K-12)
Tickets are on sale at Library Administration and Central, Gresham, Hillsdale, Hollywood, Midland, Sellwood-Moreland and St. John’s libraries.

Tickets are also available at A Children’s Place, Annie Bloom’s Books and Twenty–Third Avenue Books.

To order tickets by mail or for more information, call 503.988.5402.

In the December 2007 issue of the Clackamas County Peace Officers’ Association’s Union News, CCPOA president Steve Hyson writes,

The Foundation’s board has started work on several projects. We have begun work on creating a permanent law enforcement memorial here in Clackamas County. This work includes the creation of a bronze sculpture. The sculpture is being created by renowned artist Rip Caswell. Mr. Caswell has his own foundry located in Troutdale. You can preview some of Mr. Caswell’s works by visiting the foundry or its’ website at www.caswellgallery.com. I know you will find his work is of the highest quality as he is a world renowned artist. You may also see his beautiful eagle sculpture on SE Stevens Rd.

Portland Public Art has looked at Rip’s work several times – Remembering Tom McCall in Bronze, ANSWERED – Portland Public Art Quiz #2 (memorial for 9/11 first responders), Dead as a field mouse (about the aforementioned “beautiful eagle sculpture”), and Casey Eye Institute’s Exalted Ruler.

Solid bronze choice for a local sculptor of square-jawed men.

But listen, let’s not gloss over the subject of the artwork here. Art has the potential to heal rifts, mend fences, make friends of enemies. It speaks to a milder mind, a quieter spirit, a celestial understanding between humans. Right?

The Clackamas County Peace Officers’ Association represents Clackamas County Sheriff’s David Willard and Sandy Police officer William Bergin, the two officers who encountered Fouad Kaady (pictured), naked, injured and burned after a traffic accident, sitting in the middle of the road. Twenty-eight seconds later, Kaady was dead, shot seven times.

Consider the opportunity for this artwork to represent something other than suburban placidity, something other than good old boys, something other than red white and blue, or even the thin blue line.

EXTRA – 28 seconds : The Killing of Fouad Kaady
EXTRA – Background on Steve Hyson, Sheriff’s Deputy will not be prosecuted
EXTRA – Background on William Bergin, Sandy officer’s DUII arrest surfaces

Peninsula Park is one of Portland’s favorite parks – busy, dynamic, something for everyone.

As with all Portland parks, the Portland Parks and Recreation web site has excellent historical information about the park, lists of amenities, links to a map, photos, etc.

The park has three interesting pieces of artwork. All three are easily overwhelmed by the wonderful sunken rose garden with almost 9000 plantings at the South end of the park. It is one of the two or three places in the western US where if you squint, and use a little imagination, you can be in Paris.

With a lively fountain, which in the summer is filled with free-spirited dogs and children, ornate brickwork, a gazebo for weddings and surrounded by elegant elms, this garden is an excellent destination for lovers of all ages.

Inside the stately red tile community center at the North end of the park are a series of murals of young athletes tumbling and wrestling. I’m uncertain when these were made, perhaps in the 1920s.

Females exercise on one side, males on the other, each in gym togs sans corporate logos and simple, non-descript brown leather shoes, each group acting as signage leading visitors toward separate, symmetrical gymnasiums on either end of the building. Invigorating! Healthy ! Fun!

The building has had some recent remodeling; bathrooms, kitchen, but largely remains as it has always been.

I have a running fear some Adidas-based marketing moron will see these pieces of art and neighborhood history and offer with a large check to “update these murals.”

Stay away! Go back to whatever magazine you germinated from!

Seattle-based sculptor / dabbler / arts consultant Jerry Allen sold his Disk #4 to Portland Parks and Recreation in the 1970s, a bronze located in a quiet corner of Peninsula Park. It is a fair replica of Chuck Kibby’s Uroboros, in stone, located at Westmoreland Park. There may be more in storage somewhere. Both typify a 1970s combination of anxiety about marketing and incomprehension about interesting artwork. Allen is former Executive Director of the King County Arts Commission, and has served and director of cultural affairs (which I assume part of at least is art) for Dallas and San Jose.

Note to ambitious public artists – it pays off to have friends in high places.

Finally, George Johanson made two ceramic 4 x 20 murals for which symmetrically frame the outdoor pool (below).

EXTRA – Piedmont Neighborhood history

Arguably the most intriguing Oregonian ever was C E S Wood. Soldier, painter, poet, novelist, essayist, lawyer, photographer, family man, Wood was far far ahead of his community and culture, yet rambled on, in his own way, to satisfy his inimitable curiosity.

Tonight OPB TV premieres a 30 minute documentary on Wood, February 11 at 9:00 pm.

Wood’s 1927 novel, Heavenly Discourses, post-dates Mark Twain’s Letters From Earth by perhaps 30 years. It spoofs Twain’ dialogue between God and various angels, ridicules the pious, laughs out loud at the gods. Remember, this is from 1927. (Twain’s version was held from publication by his daughter until 1964 for fear of prosecution.)

GABRIEL: I am afraid Heaven won’t stand for that. Jesus has preached peace too long.
GOD: …We must first frighten them, fill them with fear, then with hate. For example, headlines in the Heavenly Herald: “Horrible Atrocities of Satan,” “Make the Cosmos Safe for Jesus,” “Satan Threatens Your Halos,” “Satan Disembowels a Cherub,” “Satan Rapes the Ten Foolish Virgins,” and so on…
GABRIEL: But none of this will be true.
GOD: True? Of course, it won’t. Don’t be a fool, Gabriel. You can’t work up a war—preparedness, I mean—on the truth. This is war—I mean preparedness—and we simply must lie—the more horrible the lies the better.

Here’s a brief essay by Wood, on Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, from Century Magazine, 1884.

Launch date for the Oregon Encyclopedia Project is February 14 at Oregon Historical Society. It’s free, probably snacks and speeches are involved.

The ambition is to list and describe all things Oregon. Currently the Encyclopedia contains eleven entries, from Book Publishing to Vortex I (sorry – no interesting pictures yet). A massive undertaking about to begin. Yet someone has not done the math.

I know, historians are behind the times. But why? Why? Clearly the petitioners for this project have been ducking the question. There are smart people associated with this project, including Carl Abbott and David Milholland. But what they need on the advisory board is someone with Web 2.0 tattooed on their forearm.

The race to create encyclopedias is, for the time being, over. The race has been run, and won. Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia has an overwhelming lead in creating a free, open content, worldwide, multi-language, gigantic by any scale, online encyclopedia. Last I looked, his staff was three and Jimmy was moving to half-time. This under half the staff of the Oregon Encyclopedia Project.

Instead of pursuing a containment strategy for their information, the OHS should get their unique materials, such as their extensive photo and film collection, and their maps and rare books, online in a similar free and accessible environment. Instead of copyrighting their content (presumably created with public dollars) they should release it to the Creative Commons.

Valerie Otani’s Folly Bollards, installed in 1998, are twenty bronze busts of harlequin-type characters from literature and story-telling from around the world. Two sets of ten are set on waist-high posts on either side of SW Main Street, between Broadway and Park Avenue, the plaza area between the Center for the Performing Arts and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The bronze is a dark mixture, so details are not particularly visible. And they’re small – which increases their invisibility, especially in the evening. Together, in these photos, they’re charming.

I bet you’ve walked by these a dozen times and not noticed them. This sums up the purpose of this blog. Art is all around us.

RACC takes care of them. Various bureaus of the City paid for them. And they’re dedicated to Karen Whitman, former director of Pioneer Courthouse Square, founder of ArtQuake and the Association for Portland Progress (which went sour under the leadership of Kim Kimbrough, exiled to Pensicola), and current board member of the Portland Schools Foundation, Portland Parks Foundation and the Oregon Sports Authority.

Topping the bollards are busts of Taro Kaja – Japan, Jester – Europe, Nasreddin – Middle East, Anansi – African-Caribbean, Sidha Karya – Bali, Nutamat (more commonly known as Noohlmahl) – Kwakuital, Mongwi Kovem – Hopi, Harlequin – Italy, Monkey King – China

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