April 2008

Gary Ewing was the co-creator of the Traveling Tranquility Circus, a festival of positive hippy energy, roughly 1968, here in Portland. The Circus was music, dance, costumes, some theatre, all enclosed in a gigantic polyurethane balloon the size of a small building, inflated with huge industrial fans. The Circus traveled the NW and performed at college campuses and human-friendly festivals.

Gary’s special treat was to blow your mind with his light show, projected onto the surface of the balloon where he mixed small blobs of brightly colored oil on the surface of a high octane overhead projector in rhythm to the pulsating music. The result was a loose interpretation of the acid trip you could have been on if you scored instead of got burned.

In later years Gary drew fame for his concert posters, his entrepreneurial optimism about the counter-culture, and for saving the Crystal Ballroom, which he protected from wrecking balls and water leaks for a decade.

I’ve been a fan since he bought me a halavah bar in front of the Psychedelic Supermarket in 1967 and later shared with me his collection of Captain Marvel comic books.

Joe Rose at the Oregonian has an obit online already with more details.

EXTRA – Gary Ewing’s web site.

A wholesale car dealer in Milwaukie, Oregon has built a 60 foot replica of the Statue of Liberty in its parking lot at Roethe Road and McLoughlin Blvd.

EXTRA – more about this landmark at waymarking.com

I loath everything about Raymond Kaskey’s 1985 hammered copper sculpture, bolted to Michael Graves‘ Portland Building.

The name sounds like boosters at the City Club thought it up on a boozy Friday afternoon. The first mention of the name in the paper of record is in 1986. Yes there are female trident-carrying goddess types in local decorative artwork, but these were previously referred to as “Columbia,” a general 19th Century patriotic icon, not Portlandia.

The location, perched on the third floor landing of a garish pomo hybrid government building, surrounded now by leafy trees, is both incongruous and hard to see. An unsubtle message from the City Forester who has selected thirty foot trees to block views of the sculpture from distance at every angle.

(The best place to see Portlandia is the observation area directly across the street in the Standard Insurance building, available 24/7 if you say hello to the security guard. Take the outdoor escalators up one floor.)

The pose of the artwork, at its on the Portland Building, is patronizing. The unsubtle message is, “Here, let the City and County bureaucracy give you a hand up from that hole you have dug yourself into.” Hunched, blank eyed, expressionless, it’s an arrogant provincial spoof of the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps the original proposal called for a welcoming gesture, but in artistic execution and surrounding context that proposed meaning is lost.

An example of how the banality bears fruit; when describing Portlandia, invariably the comment is about how large the artwork is, or how difficult it was to make, or transport. Never about the message, grace or beauty.

Regular readers know my affection for 19th Century narrative sculpture. Kaskey apes the Classical / heroic monument style using witless content, revealing the banality of his patrons. Tho the artwork is maintained on the chamber of commerce tour, visitors are puzzled. She’s large, not graceful; large, but hidden; large but why is it large? All that copper for what? What’s the what?

This is such a collegial, convivial town, true consideration of Portlandia has been an unobserved chuckle, added to a list which later included the Portland Tram and Wapato Jail, as attempts by disconnected politicians to satisfy business interests at the expense of fiscal prudence.

Jack Ohman sums Portlandia up in a recent editorial cartoon in the Oregonian, spoofing both the expense of the Portland Building and it’s poor interior design.

EXTRA – Portlandia Turns 20 in 2005, from RACC

From the Oregonian, by D.K. Row April 21, 2008.

The text below is becoming an annual feature by Row, a clear, brief summation of the Portland art scene. I’ve republished it here because the Oregonian’s web site is unsearchable.

Like the roil and thunder of the stock market this year, the local art world has been experiencing its own kind of subprime mortgage fallout.

The beginning of last year hinted at great promise ahead –fueled by a several-year deluge of artists moving to Portland. That new talent resulted in the emergence of a vital nonprofit ecology and deepening layers of artistic engagement within the city’s galleries and institutions.

But by winter, budding prospects turned into a massive selloff. The city’s most recent and serious attempt to produce a contemporary visual arts nonprofit, the Portland Art Center, closed, because of a combination of internal politics and administrative miscalculation.

Then, in February of this year, the organizers of the art fair at the Jupiter Hotel announced it was closing, too. The 4-year-old gathering of local and national dealers was an insouciant, witty version of the traditional art fair that helped expose Portland to the rest of the art world, even if major collectors didn’t spend much on art at the Jupiter.

These developments have deflated the aspirational atmosphere that has pumped up the art scene since 2000. But there are plenty of oxygen-producing events left to ponder. These include:

* The delayed but impending opening of collector and patron Sarah Miller Meigs’ Lumber Room, a contemporary art space and artist-in-residence program that should intensify the city’s engagement with the international art scene.

* The Pacific Northwest College of Art’s ambitious plans to implement its own artist-in-residence program, called the Ford Institute for Visual Education, as well as acquire new buildings that will expand its Pearl District campus. Collectively, those efforts amount to an attempt to transform the college into a cultural center, not merely an art school.

* The gradual evolution of the Portland Art Museum under Executive Director Brian Ferriso, who is trying to create a more transparent and programmatically inspired institution. One of Ferriso’s unprecedented initiatives is the establishment of permanent endowments for every curatorial position at the museum.

Of course, there is still the uncertain future of the Portland Art Center, which may re-open as a roving presenter of occasional events and shows, and the Jupiter art fair, which may continue under the direction of local dealers and the owners of the Jupiter Hotel.

Still, recent events have provoked almost existential reflection on Portland’s fragile art scene by many prominent artists, dealers and curators, a reflection that teeters on frustration because the Portland art world is an active part of the national dialogue as never before these days.

In recent years, local artists have been selected for the Whitney Biennial, for instance. Portland dealers have been attending national fairs regularly. Our institutions and curators have also been connecting with their colleagues in the larger art world more frequently.

Low funding

Yet local arts funding and patronage remains low, even in this, Portland’s Gilded Age of development.

“We are in a big time right now,” says Kristan Kennedy, an artist and the visual art program director for the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. “Our community has taken a lot of hits. Maybe that’s our lot in life –to be challenged.”

Kennedy says that no one is to blame. Rather, the issue is how the art world can become more daring and inspire the public’s imagination.

“I want to see risks in general,” says Kennedy. “We play it safe. We wait for success to support something.”

Stephanie Snyder, the director of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery at Reed College, takes Kennedy’s challenge a step further.

“The problem with our society is that most of our energy is directed at getting people to spend stuff,” Snyder says. “So how do we get people to buy or spend stuff on art? What we really have to do is figure out how to redirect civic priorities so that it’s not solely about buying stuff but investing in culture.”

Snyder says that a major source of aggravation within the art community is the feeling that the arts are taken for granted by the public. Portland is a city driven equally by its arts and culture scene and its commitment to environmental and sustainability issues.

Yet that’s not accurately reflected in the city’s economic policies and general outlook.

Marketing the arts

Nick Fish, a candidate for Portland City Council and a longtime arts patron who is on the board of the Oregon Cultural Trust, agrees with Snyder. Fish thinks the key to greater arts appreciation lies in the power of marketing the arts to the public.

“Frankly, it’s about viewing the arts as an important component of our economic policy,” says Fish. “It’s about seeing in the arts the same opportunity as the culture of sustainability, where we can tap something unique in Portland and leverage it. That takes leadership from City Hall.”

Fish thinks the art community and its supporters have to engage the business community and challenge it to be partners in the city’s arts economy. As an example, too few local businesses, he says, take advantage of the tax benefits from donations made to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Altering a public mind-set will take a sustained, collective effort, says Ferriso, the Portland Art Museum’s executive director. Ferriso says artists will have to fight, charge the battlements once again, but in a balanced, reasonable way.

“It’s important for artists to push and want more,” says Ferriso. “That’s how things happen. Artists have to fight for what they believe in. But the community shouldn’t be too hard on itself, too. It’s easy to say: ‘We aren’t doing this.’ You also have to say: ‘This is what we are doing well.’ “

A home on Northeast Columbia Boulevard has kept a concrete monument of the former president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem (1901-1963, in office 1955-1963) in it’s front yard overseeing thousands of trucks and trains each day, for the past 20+ years.

Diem’s amazing, corrupt, and dynamic career set the stage for the US defeat in Southeast Asia. For some Vietnamese who profited greatly in the early years of the wars may consider Diem to be an modern leader for a tiny weak nation stuck between two superpowers. For the rest of the world he was a petty dictator propped up by the French and the US. History hasn’t been kind to Diem or his supporters, so it’s interesting to find this sculpture and note it’s duration in one place.

The features show a young Diem, heroic and masculine. The pedestal has a picture of elks – the sculpture doesn’t fit it correctly. It’s a mash up.

The sculpture is about two-times life size, and I estimate it’s weight at over 800 pounds. I doubt it was cast around here, so it must have been transported, by truck, from where it was cast – probably a community with a large number of Vietnamese in the 1970s, Seattle or San Jose – and the set in position using some sort of crane or hoist. Quite a complicated arrangement.

Reprinted from the Ashland Daily Tidings, April 23, 2008

This is one fix that Harry Potter might not get out of.

The world’s most famous fictional wizard was dismantled from Ashland High School’s senior mural Friday by Principal Jeff Schlecht, who deemed the material inappropriate.

Echoing Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel, the mural features Harry as Adam and Professor Dumbledore as God, surrounded by other characters from the best-selling book series as cherubs. On Harry’s lap is a Golden Snitch, which in the Harry Potter books is a walnut-sized magic ball with wings chased by Seekers in the game of Quidditch.

Mounted over the quad Friday, the mural stayed intact for just a few hours before Harry’s panel was removed. The four artists, Colette Paré-Miller, Alex Levine, Sage Trail and Djamika Smith, who grew up together in a Waldorf school, weren’t told about the removal until this week. The other three panels remain on display.

Since the panel’s removal, many students have been wearing paper Snitches pinned below waist level with the words, “Censored for your protection.”

Schlecht said that while he appreciates the students’ 50 hours of creative labor and the fine art it produced, he must abide by school district policy that considers inappropriate any excessive bareness, whether in art, a video or at a football game.

Schlecht told the artists Wednesday to appropriately cover Potter’s genitalia with something bigger.

“We did censor his genital area,” Trail said. “It’s just the legs and torso of a man, definitely appropriate for a high school — and we’re not going to change it.”

The artists’ sketch had been chosen by a student committee for the quad mural, which is painted anew with each graduating class. Smith said the four took the proper steps in presenting the sketch to the AHS leadership class and to Schlecht, who at the time asked for a bigger Golden Snitch. The artists made it about the size of a baseball, but when the mural, made of four 4-by-8-foot wood panels, was hung up in full view, it just didn’t do the job, Schlecht said.

The four seniors plan to appeal the decision to Ashland schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro, and if they aren’t allowed to hang the missing panel, they will go to the School Board, Smith said.

“It’s really frustrating after we went through all the steps and we want it put back up,” said Smith. “We believed no one would complain. We believe students and the community would support it.”

Trail’s mother, pediatrician Debra Koutnik, said the principal doesn’t have the authority to censor art according to his own values.

“Art needs to reflect the community at large and Ashland is a very free-thinking and inclusive community,” she said.

Schlecht responded to Koutnik’s comment by saying, “That’s a very good question. Their perception of Ashland is right on, but this is a public high school and I have to represent all perspectives in grades nine through 12. My interpretation is that it was inappropriate.”

The Harry Potter saga provides a “special bond” for the four girls, who grew up with the characters, said Gerry Paré, AHS orchestra teacher and mother of Colette, who waged an art censorship battle with the school last month. Her abstract paintings of male and female genitalia were allowed to be exhibited during a First Friday art show at Briscoe School but in a separate, monitored room so children wouldn’t see them.

“There’s nothing showing, no genitals,” Gerry Paré said of the mural. “Michelangelo did a fabulous job depicting Adam and God in the first moments of life, and I think it’s a neat idea that they saw that and adjusted it to their teen culture.”

On the quad after school Thursday, senior Elijah Cintrom, a friend of the four, said removal of the panel was “upsetting and I wanted to wear a Snitch to protest. Nudity is just a different costume but perverts think otherwise.”

Senior Walker McAnnich-Riunzi said he admired the painting. “We’re of the Harry Potter generation, the same age as him. It brings up the issue of free speech. Jeff (Schlecht) is usually good on that. I don’t know what caused him to change his mind.”

Schlecht said he encourages using the dispute as a problem-solving exercise and welcomes the artists’ appeal up the school district ladder.

“I honestly don’t think they were trying to push the envelope,” said Schlecht. “They were trying to create a great work of art and they did.”

(Image above blurred by Ashland Daily Tidings.)

Another 19th Century plaster cast of a classic, this version of the Choiseul-Gouffier Apollo is a replica of a Roman copy of a lost, probably bronze, Greek original.

This sculpture (right) lives at the Portland Art Museum’s annex, the Mark Building.

The name is even misleading. Kouroi, or statues of naked male youth, were often called “apollos” as if all were images of the god. Choiseul-Gouffier is not the artist, but the French scholar Marie-Gabriel-Florent-Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier, ambassador to Greece and member of the L’Académie Française. Choiseul-Gouffier brought the marble sculpture from the Sublime Porte, and it’s home is now the British Museum (see image at the lower right).

Contemporary scholars call the sculpture and it’s many versions the Omphalos Apollo, a nickname taken from the navel stone which was found near the Greek original.

The left hand probably held a small bow, and the right either a bough of laurel or a quiver. At the bottom, a version at the Musei Capitolini in Rome, has had ambiguous hands added by it’s Roman craftsman. The full body from a side view forms a slight “S” shape; it’s head tilts away and down, regal and disengaged. The weight is on the left heel, the body is in motion, walking toward the viewer. The nakedness is shameless, elegant, and cold.

When the casts originally came to Portland their nakedness was described as immodest. I think it shows the power of the images to immediately ascribe them with a human character trait. The founders of the Museum decided for the general public the sculptures be dressed in tunics to cover their nakedness. Perhaps more revealing late evening tours were arranged for the burgeoning intelligencia.

Like the Doryphorus described below, this sculpture is stunning. Even with the seams and bolt holes left from a crude casting, the imperious genius of the Hellene artist and his god cuts through the centuries. A teaching tool to leverage a provincial cultural community, this item is still regularly visited and sketched.

Consider the billions of digital photographs littering the internet, taken from every angle, both old and new, together create an entire virtual world of replica images. We take them for granted, and use them to teach ourselves about the state of the world. We don’t doubt the reality of one because it always sits within a context of a billion similar images, all false. As Magritte says, “this is not a pipe.” No, it’s a painting of a dream of a pipe, and so this cast versions of artwork are also a dream of a dream, a bright focused light in the shadows of a pre-historical world.

Several stories to tell about the Portland Art Museum’s casts of Roman statues, which are replicas of early and lost Greek works, including this Doryphorus by Polykleitos (click the picture to enlarge).

Importantly and foremost, these casts were and are teaching tools; replicas yes, but fair representations from a time when travel was difficult and Naples was a far distant civilization. I don’t know why the museum bought a version without arms. Casts or replicas of important artworks was often the only way a provincial community could acquire a grand artwork, and an essential step in developing a curious arts community.

More about the 1890s cast collection at the Portland Art Museum web site.

This plaster cast of something like the Doryphorus of Polykleitos is still breathtaking in it’s simplicity and perfect 6-1 form. The Doryphorus is also called The Spear Carrier (see below, a excellent cast at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow). The original this cast was taken from is at the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

According to a card describing the remaining collection in the ground floor hallways of the Mark Building (free and open daily, excellent for evading Springtime cloudbursts), “A group of 100 casts were acquired in 1893-94 by Winslow B Ayer, with funds donated by Henry W Corbett, both museum founders. As the museum acquired more original artworks, the importance of the casts to the museum’s program dwindled. The majority were eventually loaned to to local universities as educational resources for art students.”

Ayers was a lumber and railroad man. Mrs. Ayers went with him to Europe to buy the casts. The funds were $10,000, or $100 apiece. Corbett was in hardware and wholesale merchandising and later became a federal senator. Their actions, leveraging culture at an early moment in Portland’s development, now result in this city not being Spokane or Toledo or Buffalo – their small investment paid high dividends for their ancestors, those who appreciate Portland’s public art.

In 1893-94 Portland still hung a scraping tool for dung at all doorways. These were forward thinking men who carefully planned a cultural attraction for their adopted city.

Cool – this could be a statewide treasure hunt! There are only a handful left on display with the PAM so the remainder, which haven’t been swiped, should still be on display. If you find one of these spooking your college library, post a note below.

An important, growing, and spectacularly weird art-business story is an estimated 60% of all art sold now comes from Chinese city of Dafen, as described recently by James Fallows. Examples such as this excellent marble replica of Doryphorus at Museum Replicas – just $5,400 – show why first the Romans and now the Chinese rule the world (see image at right).

April 15, 2008

April 18. 2008

May 1, 2008

For more information, see Packy mural coming down

A couple of kids have taken advantage of the old poet, leading him on, adulating him, chuckling in their sleeves. Just you wait until you’re old and that spinning brain of yours slows down and craps out.

Walt’s reading from his short romance Mala Noche (later made into a film by Gus Van Sant). Looks, from the stubble, like this junky video was taken recently. Walt is an irascible Portland treasure, cluttered with Oregon literary trivia, character and song. Someone should in a more careful way capture his voice and spirit on film before time and opportunity slip by.

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