Monday, February 19, 2007

about the recent debate

There has been quite a ruckus about the bum dragons placed in Chinatown. But I know from my own stint in curating public art with the Tri-met Interstate Max Line how difficult that whole process is.

TJ Norris said the problem might lay with not placing an “Asian-based” art into that project to begin with. While the name Horatio Law immediately comes to mind, (and he might not have what this project was looking for anyway), curating by race or/and gender is really tricky, really hard – but I think it was always done. Just differently, that's all.

In the beginning and in the end, you’ve got a lot more than just the art on your mind. Even when curators tell me, like they did on my gender bias panel on the radio, that they never think of such things, the identity of the artist is a back current always in play.

As to public art, we’re looking for 'consensus', right? Alot of art does not spring from that. Still, I loved the challenge of curating artworks for that project, would do it all over again and do more if I was asked, but navigating the actual art was only part of my concerns. People want to see themselves there, whoever we are. But man oh man when I made those cold calls – to artists of the right medium, the right style and let us not forget, also the right race and gender, I essentially had before me a check-off list. It was like a high form of cookery.

And yet I am the first one to complain about all the white guys getting the kudos. Still – do you got to make a list? Until it’s all different, whenever and however that is, well – yeah. This list is not just about the images or ‘the market’ or that mantra known as the ‘quality of work.’ Look, as we do in art history classes - at the artist. The artist makes the art and they also make the history. But many are still poorly trained in being their own advocate.

On Artstar today I have an artist who was in that Tri-met project. The station had a theme already when I arrived – j a z z – and Tri-Met was very clear in their aims: find the artist wedded to that theme in their art and that place and that community. In Bill Rutherford he appeared, an artist who lived and breathed jazz from what seems to be infancy. Now he has a show at Broderick (the above painting is from that show), paired with music history lessons and stories from his youth. His parents knew the hot and heavies of the jazz world and were figures in the civil rights movement.


C said...

Evading this sort of problem is the vital purpose of arts administration; whereas humans are prone to various corruptions, the value of bureaucracy to to eliminate or sufficiently reduce irksome personal foibles. Making everything more complicated, and what makes arts administration so interesting to watch from curbside, is both art and artists tend to both resist the basic rules and purpose of administration, and often flounder within it's hamfisted guidance. The even balance between sufficient oversight and necessary creativity is a magical blend and much sought after.

TJ said...

With all due respect, and in the spirit of the Chinese New Year - multiculturalism is not a blind study. Any placebo test would fail. Portland has very few opportunities to celebrate its growing Asian population. There is a strong sense of solidarity/identity in the many Chinatowns that spot American cities. So why not in Portland? People can only become invested in the name and delicate history of culture on all fronts. I would love to hear what the Chinese Times ( or the Oregon Commission on Asian Affairs has to say about this awkward situation. DK Row has adequetly followed the goings-on in this case over the last several weeks. The Chinese (and other Asian populations) have long been part of the fabric of the Pacific Northwest, and will continue to be part of the development of Portland as a world class destination that fully embraces the many tongues of the world people who root here.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

There's a lot of celebrating going on around 82nd Ave. (being considered "The New Chinatown"). Hung Far Low relocated out here, Legin is across the street, countless Pho, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants/markets. The Eastern European/Russian influence is heavy as well. For me, it combines the ethno-centric neighborhoods SF with SJ's El Camino Real.

I love this new Pan Asian center, located at the old SE PCC campus (which took over an abandoned mall on 82nd and Division):

It's not nearly as good as Japan Town Center in SF, (I want a GIANT bookstore) but the quirky mix (including a Starbuck's) feels very contemporary. I suggest spending a day exploring everything from 82nd and Sandy down to where Foster meets 82nd.

Isn't it wonderful that a Zen Monastery wanted the dragon piece, and had a completely different reading of it?

DK has done a great job with the story.