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April 15th, 2009 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

Mark Woolley Gallery Says Goodbye

The longtime outsider gallery calls it quits.

     
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DRAWN OUT: Mark Woolley closes his gallery May 30.

After 15 years in business, the Mark Woolley Gallery will close May 30, becoming the third major PDX gallery to close this year. Woolley says the closure is only partly due to the recession, and that he will remain in town as a private art dealer and arts impresario. In January and February, he tried unsuccessfully to find a business partner for the gallery. Decreased sales and walk-in clientele were among his reasons for the closure, along with a convergence of personal and professional issues including his age (57), the recent death of his parents, weariness with the logistics of mounting monthly shows, a desire to travel more, and the belief that his talents would be better served by organizing periodic exhibitions in Portland and elsewhere.

Opened in December 1993, the gallery occupied a second-floor space in the Pearl District. More recently, the gallery relocated to 128 NE Russell St., then to 817 SW 2nd Ave. In hindsight, Woolley says these musical-chairslike relocations were not good for business. “It was confusing. People would ask, ‘Now, where exactly are you now?’”

Formerly a social studies teacher, Woolley is known as a social butterfly with a fondness for glitter-spangled shoes and work that deals with socially relevant, sexually transgressive themes. Among the work he has exhibited, painter Debra Beers’ assemblages depicting homeless youth and Walt Curtis’ gonzo genitalic fantasias showed Woolley’s willingness to display art that might unsettle conservative viewers. Feminist sculptor Julia Fenton’s challenging 2003 outing, Devices and Desires, stands out as one of the most intellectually engaging, visually gratifying shows mounted in PDX during the past decade. According to Woolley, the show did not sell a single piece.

“Sometimes people ask me, ‘How’s the show going?’ But what they mean is, ‘How’s the show selling?’ I look at it in a broader sense. If we’ve gotten all kinds of visitors to think and talk about the way art affects our culture, then to me, that’s every bit as successful as a show that has tons of red dots.”


SEE IT: Mark Woolley Gallery’s final group show, I Coulda Been a Collecta!, runs May 6-30. 817 SW 2nd Ave., 224-5475. A longer version of this story is available here at wweek.com.
 
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