Quality Pictures' splashy grand opening last month—champagne and lemondrops, DJ and live band—was the icing on what appears to be a very substantial cake. The gallery's debut featured Chris Verene's eccentric photographic tableaux and the group show POW! (Pictures of Women), a deconstruction of femininity that, mercifully, managed to be more about femininity than deconstruction. Verene's Crystal at Eighteen is the show's piÈce de résistance: a trailer-trash Venus of Willendorf whose eponymous teen, bespectacled and zaftig, reclines on a dingy couch, a paean to formidable thighs and the art of wearing Birkenstocks with socks. This month's show of David Hilliard's off-kilter triptychs—a man knitting a jock strap, a woman gazing into a makeup mirror while a girl touches her shoulder consolingly—continue building the gallery's momentum.
Straight-shooting yet winkily self-aware, this is the caliber of photography—displayed in a space that is cool but not cold—that we might see at Art Basel Miami Beach or the Armory Show in New York. Now, we are seeing it in Portland thanks to Erik Schneider, a recent transplant from Atlanta who brings with him a varied background in curating, collecting and arts accounting. Schneider recently spoke with WW about his vision and plans for Quality Pictures.
WW: How would you describe your overall taste in art?
Erik Schneider: Conceptual, brainy work is what I really like, but I only like it when the execution is really gorgeous. At the end of the day, photography is something you look at.
What niche do you hope to fill in Portland?
I want to bring something different here. I want to bring art that hasn't been seen here before. I also want to see if I can use my connections on the other side of the country to help Portland artists be seen elsewhere. I also want to be help people realize that they should hold fine-art photography in the same reverence that they hold painting and drawing and sculpture in. The other thing I want to do is to help people know more about "the money stuff" behind art. Could a piece hang in a museum someday? How much will it sell for at auction? I don't think buying art is all about the money—in fact, it's probably 90 percent about the image and 10 percent about the money. But don't ever forget that 10 percent.
Judging from your first shows, it's pretty clear you're not one to shy away from provocative content. Do you think eroticism or transgression are easier to capture via photography than, say, painting?
No, because in photography you run the risk of being overly explicit or cheesy—it's too easy to go one way or the other—whereas in painting or drawing it's much more controllable. When you have edgy work in photography, the shocking part of the photo needs to be there for a good reason, not just to titillate. My focus is on the quality of the work; to me it doesn't matter how hard it hits, as long as it hits true.
Are you going to have a certain ratio of photography to art in other media?
If there were a ratio, it'd be around half-and-half. We'll be doing painting shows, drawing shows, video work, all sorts of things. We're a contemporary art gallery. You'll see—by the end of the spring, people won't just be calling us a photography gallery anymore.
Chris Verene's photos (closes Jan. 27) and David Hilliard's photos (Jan. 4-Feb. 24) are currently on display at Quality Pictures, 916 NW Hoyt St., 227-5060.