Savage stands like the ghost of art galleries yet to come. The gallery is the only sign of life on Northwest 10th Avenue, between Couch and Hoyt streets in the Pearl, where Jimmy Mak's weather-beaten exterior and scores of vacant developments dominate. "Foot traffic has been slow," says Tracy Savage, owner of the eponymous gallery. "But we don't really need it. We have a mailing list of 3,500."
The gallery opened in April with a high-profile fete and has nearly completed its third month of operation. "The thing that has surprised me the most since opening is that people get it," says Savage. "They understand what I'm doing."
But how difficult can it be to understand? A gallery comprises four white walls, one big desk, one chic gallery assistant and various works of art. Nothing too complicated.
Savage, though, took a different approach, trying to make her gallery a special meeting place for artist and audience. Begone cold, whitewashed barns. Welcome to the art manor.
"I read a book that was quite inspiring that was called The Gift that talked about how culture develops," Savage says of her impetus to create the space. "When an artist gets up in the morning, what they put into their art is a gift. And once you have an exchange with that, culture develops. It interested me to think about creating an environment where people could have that type of exchange. A place where people might stay, sit and think about the work. I didn't just want to make a store."
Savage's approach has caused some to suggest that she has created the future of Portland gallery life. The tall windows at the front of the building beckon visitors to a small first room that functions as a parlor waiting to become a salon. Pieces of art (at the moment it's Tad Savinar's combinations of urban landscapes and biographical sentences) hang on two walls. A grand couch with sinking soft cushions dominates the center of the room. "The first thing you notice when you walk into most galleries is there's no place to sit down," says Savage. Here, the contemplative gallery-walker can linger until closing.
After passing the desk, visitors enter a larger room that is always 73 degrees (good to keep in mind for places to visit in the summer). A small stage descends into a wider vista where, currently, Dale Chihuly's neo-rococo glass sculptures curl toward sky. "It's a casual amphitheater," Savage says. "I purposefully didn't make it a four-wall kind of box. I really love dance, and I could imagine having dance here." It took 18 months for the gallery to come into existence. "It was the fifth location that we looked at," says Jeff Sturh, the gallery's designer and a partner at Holst Architects. "It was by far the best. The gallery has a contemporary, modern, industrial feel."
The gallery may change from its current six-week rotation to seven weeks next year. Savage stirred a bit of controversy when she opted out of the Pearl's typical four-week display with First Thursday openings. "I didn't really need First Thursday," she admitted. "And I don't know how those other galleries do it. Art needs to be up longer than four weeks." The gallery may also hold salons and a speaker series next year, though nothing is definite.
For Savage, who has been active in art collection at a national level for over 25 years (and who says that her representation is split evenly between regional and national artists), right here, right now is pretty good. "I feel like I could do this for another 20 years," she says. By that time, with luck, the Pearl's ghost strip will have come alive.
The Dale Chihuly and Tad Savinar exhibits end June 23.