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August 8th, 2007 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

The Desoto Building

A building, a cross-pollination and a life-changing journey into basket weaving?

     
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There's a Cole Porter tune called "So Near and Yet So Far" that could have been written about the two-block distance between the Everett Station Lofts and the newly renovated DeSoto Building. The Lofts, a funky petri dish for emerging artists, are physically close to the freshly rededicated DeSoto, but make no mistake, the DeSoto is an encroachment of the Pearl's chi-chi pedigree into a rapidly changing Old Town. And that's a good thing. Highbrow-lowbrow cross-pollination is always a welcome aesthetic aerator. That being said, in certain quadrants of the Portland arts press, the DeSoto's minutiae—cost per square foot, zoning tedium, developer Jim Winkler's shoe size—have gotten more ink than a Suicide Girl at a tattoo convention.

I'm more interested in how effectively the building's gallery spaces showcase the art itself. By this criterion the DeSoto largely underwhelms. The new Blue Sky and Nine Gallery spaces feel boxy and stolid despite their requisite high ceilings. Their previous locations were more welcoming. The Augen and Froelick spaces hit the mark better, opening up with expansive entry galleries, then scaling down more intimately inside. Charles A. Hartman Fine Art is smaller, more elegant and pristine in a way that obliquely recalls Jane Beebe's old PDX space.

Despite a soaring main gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Craft's new digs feel constricted (remember, the Contemporary Crafts Gallery upgraded its name along with its address when it moved from its Lair Hill home). This may owe to dense staging of the museum's inaugural show, Craft in America: Expanding Traditions. As for the show itself, the Colossus of Rhodes would've had a hard time living up to the advance hype the museum heaped upon this loosely curated survey. "Prepare for a journey..." begins the show's postcard, which features an image of (drumroll, please) a basket. "A journey of reinvention and renewal..." reads the text at the show's entrance, after which the exhibit cycles you through a procession of assorted benches, bowls, pots, plates, quilts, tea carts and rugs. To its credit, the show is dotted with many clever and inventive pieces: Charles Hollis Jones' gorgeous late-'60s Wisteria chair in Lucite and orange fabric; Myra Mimlitsch's deconstructed candelabrum, which recalls the melting clocks in Dali's The Persistence of Memory; and Peter Shire's wildly colored geometric étude.

Are these fine examples of modern and postmodern design? Certainly. Could you find equally lovely pieces in the showrooms of Hive Modern and Design Within Reach? Probably. Does Craft in America take you on "a journey of reinvention and renewal"? Not unless your life is very, very boring. 724 NW Davis St., 223-2654. Closes Sept. 23. .

 
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