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