Portland: a visual arts scene takes flight
By MARYSE DE LA GIRODAY
Community support for the arts in Portland is remarkable and longstanding. The city opened an art museum only 41 years after its 1851 incorporation. Today, the Portland Art Museum (PAM) ranks as the seventh oldest and one of the 25 largest art museums in the United States.
Brian Ferriso, PAMs executive director, inherited an institution $20 million in the hole when he arrived in 2006. While paying down the debt, due to be eliminated in June 2015, PAM has revamped its user experience. Ferriso says, Our team developed a subtle, strategic approach focused on content, using existing platforms, for a thoughtful use of technology to enhance the user experience. Other museums have taken note: Ferriso was invited to speak about PAMs technology and user experience at the Association of Museum Art Directors 2015 conference in Mexico. Later, in fall 2015, PAM will be the first to showcase Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allens collection of landscapes, featuring roughly 40 paintings and five centuries of European and American landscape art prior to the shows tour of the United States which ends in 2017.
Nature and the land are important aspects of the local arts scene. The Portland Japanese Garden, considered one of the finest gardens outside of Japan, boasts its own art curator, Diane Durston. Over the past eight years, she says, we have evolved into a venue for museum-quality exhibitions featuring such internationally known artists as Kazumi Murose, designated as a Living National Treasure of Japan. We seek to show a balance of traditional and contemporary work to give visitors a context in which to view todays art and the garden itself.
In April 2015, the garden will be exhibiting wood sculptures from the Goto family, a 29-generation enterprise. According to Durston, [The] current owner, the first woman head of her family studio, Hakkodo, in Kamakura, Japan, is making strikingly modern objects that are carved and lacquered using the same techniques her ancestors used to carve Buddhist statuary. The family has a prior connection to Portland. The owners great-grandfather showed his work at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, and won a gold medal.
Jeff Jahn (pronounced yawn), a classically trained musician who works as an art critic, art curator and publisher of PORT one of the longest-standing art blogs in the United States, exemplifies the edgier aspects of Portlands arts scene. As Jahn sums up his and his authors perspectives, At PORT we arent here to make friends, we want a frank, informed discussion and to make room and prompt the entire community to question what is presented and considered as art. We offer a sense of scope and scale since a city the size of Portland can easily devolve into cliquish mutual admiration societies and it is poison. Effective criticism takes poison and makes it medicine. This year marks PORTs 10th year of publication (portlandart.net).
Portland taxpayers deepened their commitment to the arts and arts education in 2012 by voting in a $35 Arts Education and Access Income Tax. While there have been a few problems as administrators have grappled with the realities of implementing this unique tax, about $7.6 million collected during the first year of the tax has been disbursed.
Deeply rooted in a history and geography of place, Portlands arts scene is infused with a spirit of exploration that defies earthly boundaries.
Interview with Eva Lake, Portland painter, radio host and journalist
Could you tell me a bit about yourself? E.g., are you originally from Portland? Did you train as an artist or are you self-taught? Where else have you lived? Have you always been an artist?
I grew up in Southern Oregon in very rural circumstances. Being an only child, I had to rely on my imagination and making things. Luckily, my dad collected antiques and my mom was an artist who had a gallery (with 3 other women), so I had all kinds of early access to art. I studied art history at the U of O [University of Oregon] and painting at the Art Students League of New York but never got a degree.
People who knew me as a child say I was always an artist. It strikes me as not a thing you choose, but something you just are, and that is for better or worse. When you are young it is a Great Romance, being an artist. Later on you see how complicated it all is, to live as one. I have lived in Eugene (the 70s), London (the 70s), San Francisco (80s), New York (80s and 90s) and Portland now for 18 years.
I see that in addition to being an artist you've also worked as a curator, owned a gallery, been a writer, and are currently a radio host and producer. Is this something artists in Portland need to do in order to survive or is it a diversity of interests you personally need as an artist or is it some combination thereof?
Around 2000 I felt very un-empowered as an artist here and knew something was missing. I decided to read my old diaries and look at when I was happy in my art life. What did that look like? During the Punk/ Post Punk era, I saw that we did many different things, not asking permission for any of it. We founded our own spaces, our bands, our own recording studios, our own media (fanzines) and art shows. I had power over my own life, just the day to day aspect of how it went - and yet it was not all about me; it was about a whole movement of ideas. When I read all of this, it was a big epiphany: I needed to get back to that model somehow. I learned from my 23 year old self. That is when I decided to open a gallery, curate a window project and start a radio show, telling myself that I would not send out slides or ask for anything for at least a year; just give opportunities instead and be involved. And that all lasted a heck of a lot longer than a year!
To this day, when people ask me how to get a show, I tell them to give a show. Karma works. For me art is not an object and not just something that happens in the studio. It is a conversation.
How is it possible to survive as an artist in Portland? Since you arrived in Portland has it gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse? Could you speak to the arts tax?
This town never was about making a lot of money! I am selling work but I still work a day job. And I feel grateful for it all. I know nothing about that art tax except that I pay it.
What visual arts trends to do you seeing emerging in Portland?
Things are not as regional as they once were. People move in and out and what with the Internet, it just doesnt feel separate. Those bearded artisans are global.
Is there currently something in Portland's visual arts scene that excites you and what is it?
Ive never wanted to love something or someone by definition of location. No one is anything by simply where they live. I knew this place when it was pathetically out; now that its in, it doesnt matter. Except that when I travel now, people know where Portland, Oregon is and they are all impressed ;)
Has your work been affected by your residency in Portland. If so, how?
I grew up in this state so residency feels weird. Home is more like it. And maybe that is why I could have some success here I have found myself more than once in this town! Perhaps the fact that I couldnt make a lot of money here helped me stay the course of a productive art practice. Money couldnt distract me. The same with the lack of grand museums and fabulous dead artists - not having them as a distraction shoved me into the conversation with the living. A good thing!
If you had a wish for the Portland arts scene what would it be?
We need more money, more collectors, more mid career gallerists for mid career artists (and beyond). In that sector we have the same 6 or 7 galleries now as we did when I first moved back in 1997, seriously. Sure, there are a lot of artist-run spaces. They are very, very important but they flip every few years and leave a lot of artists who were on their way with nowhere to go.
Is there anything you'd like to add? E.g. an upcoming show?
I am showing in New York at Frosch and Portmann in 2015. Of course I am very excited. Plus I will show again at Augen Gallery this year too. Thanks to Bob Kochs for showing me once again.