Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Heart of the Pearl

I swear I went into the `Heart of the Pearl' with the best of intentions on this sunny Saturday afternoon. Having done a few commentaries on art in the SE, it felt like time to say something about something in Portland's most prestigious art gallery neighborhood; The Pearl. I visited six galleries but just couldn't get past the unseemly odor of commerce the was in the air everywhere I turned. Not farmers market commerce, or Powell's bookstore commerce, or Chinese night market commerce, either. Those places are interesting.

The first gallery I went into felt like walking into a real estate open house or an upscale furniture store. The gallery lady was in a tidy white polyester pants suit. She greeted me as I looked at the shiny, colorful, (dare I say) pleasant artwork for sale on the walls ... prices ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. To my relief the next gallery I went into did not have someone trying to make eye contact right away. When I turned the corner after giving every blurry, pastel-colored, abstract wall painting a reasonable gander, there was the gallery owner working hard to sell a piece to a prosperous looking retired couple. The couple was dressed like they had just come off a tennis court. "In this painting the artist does a base coating of red, that's why the green explodes off the canvass." The couple nodded as if they were taking in some profound wisdom. I turned and ran. I ran out of the gallery and hurled myself in front of a bicycle breezing down Davis street. The cyclist deftly swerved out of the way to avoid my prone body. She didn't flinch and kept talking on her cell phone as her two thin wheels whizzed her through a stop sign silently east.

I know artists and galleries need to sell work. It's hard to exist without commerce. Many artists bemoan the fact that people aren't willing to support their work. An MFA is expensive. The scary part for me is that so many galleries seem to favor decorative artwork that won't offend. Art that will look nice in a tastefully appointed bourgeois home. There was a time when abstract expressionism or minimalist geometric crispness was a challenge to the status quo. Now it is the most harmless art ever, suitable for a corporate office or bank.


  1. hee hee. i second your emotions. ;)

  2. Truly the Pearl is the land of the living dead. I only go to those galleries when friends are exhibiting.

    It was once a fun place, 18 or so years ago, but already in decline even then with the influx of architects and lawyers.

    If you want to purchase that fantastic art simulating accessorization, well, The Pearl is the place.

  3. I lived in NYC when SOHO was changing from a place with lofts and interesting galleries to what it is now.....botiques and restaurants. The Pearl seems to be headed in that direction.