As much as the Biennial has generated talk about the 20 artists it features, it has also inspired Portland's underground and independent artists to action. Works by 15 visual artists are currently showing in the Salon de Refuse at Groundswell Gallery, while works by 31 are featured in the Salon of the Independents at Bollenbach Art Labs.
Two Northeast Portland artists, Mariana Tres and Jenny Rideout, started the Salon de Refuse to feature artists turned down for the Portland Art Museum's Biennial. The curators intend no criticism of the selections made by the Biennial's one-man jury, PAM curator of contemporary art Bruce Guenther, but they did want to address issues in how the Biennial was administered, namely that many artists didn't have time to prepare for the Biennial's deadline. They also hoped that their exhibition would inspire a roundtable discussion with Guenther. At press time, however, Guenther--who attended the salon's opening--hadn't heard from them.
Furthermore, Guenther disagrees with the salon's criticisms of the Biennial's deadline. The museum mailed out 5,000 prospectuses, he says, and entry forms were posted at museum entrances (raising the ugly idea that perhaps artists who want to be exhibited at PAM don't go there to see art).
Still, the Salon de Refuse is trying to keep a sense of humor. "We're not bitter," says Rideout. "It's more of a celebration."
Directions to the Salon of the Independents' home at Bollenbach sound like ones to London's best underground clubs: under the Morrison Bridge, one block north of Bistro Montage, in a warehouse basement. The participants all have one thing in common: They're actively showing in Portland without a gallery contract.
The independents don't reject the Biennial as much as provide an alternative to it. "It's for the scene that's not shown," says Jeff Jahn, the salon's chief coordinator. For Jahn, the Biennial isn't a mammoth machine dashing artists' hopes. "The Biennial opens up dialogue," he says, "but it's not the last word."
Jahn started organizing the salon in November, and artists who've displayed work at the Everett Station Lofts galleries dominate the exhibition. There are no curators, juries or prizes. "It's bringing together lesser-known artists in a place that isn't a coffee house," says salon contributor Meaghan Walsh. "This is an opportunity for most of us who don't have this type of space at this stage of our careers."
Participating in the Salon of the Independents isn't a reactionary move on her part, she says. "I consider it a show of its own."
Both groups see their salons as important ways for artists to meet each other. "When you have 31 artists en masse who haven't had a major show before, they're anxious," independent Matt Fleck says. "This will have a lot of energy, excitement. It's the first kiss of art."
Salons des refusés, salons of independents, armory shows, Whitney dissenters and the guy wanting to swap a sketch for a cigarette on Northwest 21st Avenue are an important part of the art world's dialogue. "Experimentation happens in the street," Guenther says. "Ten years later. the best of Alberta Street comes to the museum. But it goes through a couple of stages before the Biennial."
Groundswell Gallery and Cafe, 1800 NE Alberta St., 331-1420. Closes Saturday, May 26.
Bollenbach Art Labs, 630 SE 3rd Ave. Opens Friday, May 25, 7-9 pm. Regular hours 5:30-6:30 pm Tuesday-Thursday 12-3 pm Saturday.