Pearl District's First Thursday, Northeast Alberta Street's Last Thursday, the Central Eastside's newish Last Friday-our local art scene has morphed into this city's most visually arresting social scene. And like most social venues, it has quickly become just one more pathetic excuse to score free drinks and ogle hot ass. Thus, it's easy to skim over the real purpose of these art-filled walks: exposing yourself to art-free-agent contemporary works that are ready, able and willing to go home with you.
This fall is jam-packed with events like Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's Time-Based Art Festival (Sept. 9-18), Portland Art Dealers Association's Portland Art International (September-October), Affair @ the Jupiter Hotel (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) and the big daddy of them all, the opening of the Portland Art Museum's new Center for Modern and Contemporary Art (Oct. 2). So as Portland's visual-art season approaches, WW sat down with someone a little bit more like us (i.e., a person who still has more in their piggy bank than in their 401K, a far cry from a retired "patron of the arts") who could help demystify the art of buying art.
Jennifer Armbrust opened Old Town's Motel Gallery in March 2003. Since then, this iconoclastic 27-year-old has hosted a revolving door of young up-and-coming artists who lack the pretension gene (or at least they act like they do); instead, they reflect on life and nature through a fresh take on contemporary art that leans on, of all things, humor.
We asked this curious curator/art dealer to hold our hand, soothe our fears, and explain why buying art doesn't have to be reserved for the rich and the almost famous.
That said, it's still a daunting proposition, because transitioning from taping bad poster art over your bed to actual art ownership is a gray area riddled with self-doubt. This is not a quick zip into Banana Republic for pink panties; you're walking into a sophisticated, unfamiliar environment, and you're likely to invest a good chunk of money based on someone else's subjective taste. It may seem the territory of in-the-know art whores with high self-esteem or blue-hairs with a 200-pound checkbook, but really anyone can buy art. Here are a few of Armbrust's thoughts on getting your own collection started.
1. It's all about the love. Buy what you love, not just what you can afford. Explains Armbrust, "When you find a good piece of art, it's like [a lover] that kissed you. You can only think about that piece of artwork. You want to stare at it. And you want to bring your friends to look at it. That's when you know it's for you."
2. You don't have to break the bank. "Just pay attention to what's around," Armbrust says. "It's surprising how affordable art is. You can walk into a clothing store and easily throw down a hundred dollars. You can do the same with art." In fact, if you ask, gallery owners might offer payment plans. And, as with anything else, you can set an art budget-Armbrust knows of high-end collectors who won't buy anything over a thousand dollars.
3. Buying art requires research. Want your piece to accrue in value? Check out the artist's biography. Things like the artist's long-term commitment to the profession play a big role in the longevity of the piece. So when you're purchasing from a gallery, there's a stronger assurance that the artist is developing his or her career.
4. What's it made of? Look at the material. If it's going to corrode over time because it's made out of, say, pigeon poop, you might not want that piece.
5. As with any investment, you want to diversify. Remember what happened to all those Beanie Babies you used to own? Neither do we. Collecting art, like anything, doesn't have to be about a certain theme, historical period or genre. "Don't limit yourself to just one thing," Armbrust cautions, "because you may back yourself into a corner."
6. Ownership is the gift that keeps on giving. "There's the pleasure of just having the artwork and looking at it and allowing it to unify or expand your personal space," Armbrust says. "You're also supporting somebody's livelihood in a very direct way. It really is grass-roots."
7. You don't need a degree in art history. All you have is your taste. Combine that with a little intuition, and you can build a great collection.
Motel Gallery, 19 NW 5th Ave., 222-6699, www.motelgallery.com .