Sunday, September 5, 2010

Art For Sale On the Pearl

I was in the Pearl to check out some of the new gallery shows. I always like to go to Blackfish and The Elizabeth Leach Gallery. It provides a fun contrast between a successful artist run cooperative with more of an emphasis on community than retail. Christopher Shotola-Hardt's paintings share the gallery with Judith Wyss' stained glass works. Both artists have made impressive gains from previous shows. The work is intimate, approachable, human, and deep. The Justine Kurland photography across the street at Elizabeth Leach is interesting with landscapes and trains and decay and dryness. The work catches the mood of a depressed country on the downside of it's glory days. I get stuck on the prices. $12,000 for a large photograph. It is a bit alienating because the price tells me that this work was created for someone other than me.
I had accidentally happen to be in the Pearl for Art on the Pearl. And, of course, I was helplessly sucked into the crowd and quickly fell in line behind a middle aged couple from the West Hills. I happened to glance deep into the sad oppressed eyes of the the husband. Eyes the same color as the golf shirt from the Tiger Woods collection that was keeping him comfy by wicking excess moisture that his body was creating as he followed his wife past the stalls. Deep in those eyes I saw a yearning for college football. He wanted to be watching college football. I could tell. But... he was instead dutifully following his wife. I dutifully followed the two of them. We stopped at a booth with photos of forest scenes which had been filtered to sepia tones. We watched the glass blower work with his glowing molten orb. We admired two wiener dogs, one of which lay on the ground refusing to move further into the art fair depths. We admired some paintings, cartoonish girls with big smiley faces. We had some donuts, listened to some bluegrass music, and glanced at our cell phones. The couple started to notice me following them and I could tell I was making them nervous. I stopped, walked past a set of florescent orange barriers blocking the cars from driving down Davis Street. I headed towards the river, away from a place where art was meeting commerce, people were shopping and dogs were sniffing people's shoes.


  1. Thanks for mentioning Blackfish Gallery - still going strong after all these years. It was a bit hard to read the names of the two artists in the grey color you chose. I thought there would be a link because of the color change. You must have studied psychology or you're psychic to get all that from a glance at the eyes of the 'middle aged man' from the West Hills (just kidding....)

  2. I like the description of you following the couple. Pretty amusing. Two questions:
    1. Why no critique of the art you saw, Portland art critic?
    2. What's wrong with art meets commerce? Don't you think artists should sell their art?

  3. Thanks for the two questions.
    1. I probably should have critiqued some of the art. It kind of felt like the scene was the important art there as opposed to what was in each stall.
    2. I don't think I overtly stated that art shouldn't be sold. On the other hand, creating art with a focus on selling it changes the art. An artist inevitably has to make choices around how he's going to make up his or her costs and hopefully turn a profit. It would be a different mind set then a bunch of Tibetan monks would have when they are creating a sand painting. People can decide for themselves whether it's good or bad. I have been in a lot of cultures where the art created isn't a commodity and I think about that when I am at commercial events like `art fairs'.

  4. That's a pretty broad stroke bringing up Tibetan monks making sand paintings. Do you really think that art selling via the galleries you mentioned - Elizabeth Leach and Blackfish- is somehow immune from being referred to as commerce? What makes the art fair more distasteful to you?
    Just saying - since I know 2 gallery artists with respectable work who were showing at the Pearl art fair : Kim Hamblin and Allison O' Donahue.

  5. I guess I distinguish gallery art a bit because even though galleries are commercial enterprises, many do have a mission or function beyond pure commerce. In the end, though, both are part of a system where the success of an artist equates to sales. I think it is good not to just take that for granted and intersting to consider how that changes the choices any artist might make in the creative process.

  6. I think that most galleries are in it to make a living - and I don't see anything wrong with that. Perhaps you have a higher and more precious attitude towards art than I do. I do not see hoarding art as a more noble practice than selling it. My paintings are material objects that I exchange for money - that does not demean the process or the product.
    It actually makes it a helluva lot easier to paint when I have money to buy supplies, food, etc.

  7. Hey Dante, thanks for the article. I wanted to suggest you do a review of Portland Open Studios. I know it would be a challenge to do, because by it's nature it's all over the place. I haven't gone in a few years, but I was thinking about going this year, because there are 2 weekends for it instead of one. Of interest to you (possibly) is that one of the participants bought YOUR work. I'd like you to meet him. Email me to find out who. painter(dot)celeste(at)gmail(dot)com