The season is so close you can smell it—no, not spring, but Biennial season. A duo of new biennial art exhibitions has been announced
in the absence of a proper biennial such as the Portland Art Museum used to mount. Arts nonprofit Disjecta
has unveiled Portland 2010
, curated by Linfield College gallery director Chris Moss. From March 13-May 30, eighteen artists will display old and new work across many media in venues including Disjecta, Rocksbox Fine Art, Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, Marylhurst University Art Gym, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, and Alpern Gallery. Those artists are: Holly Andres, Corey Arnold, Pat Boas, John Brodie, Bruce Conkle, Marne Lucas, David Corbett, Ditch Projects, David Eckard, Damien Gilley, Sean Healy, Tahni Holt, Oregon Painting Society, Melody Owen, Jenene Nagy, Crystal Shenk, Heidi Schwegler, Stephen Slappe, and Kartz Ucci. Those are respectable, if safe, choices, and their work will likely make for a good set of shows. Whenever the moniker “Biennial” is put on any group show, it raises expectations unreasonably, and this will be no exception. As curator, Moss has already engendered grousing that his artist selection is stale. This is good news. If people didn't bitch about it, it wouldn't be a biennial.
Meantime, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
(PICA) will mount its own biennial exhibition as part of this summer's TBA Festival. Dubbed The People's Biennial
, the show is positioned as a kind of “People's Choice” Awards as opposed to the more prestigious, Academy Award-like Oregon Biennial, which PAM phased out to make room for the more exclusionary Contemporary Northwest Art Awards—the next installment of which is slated for 2011. For The People's Biennial
, curators Harrell Fletcher and Jens Hoffmann are seeking nominations from the public for whom to include. In an announcement for an ad-hoc nomination session (to be held 4pm, Saturday, Feb. 6, The Cleaners at Ace Hotel, 403 SW 10th
Ave.), the curators say they want to include:
“artists and non-artists who are operating outside of traditional presenting institutions and systems. This could include a child who makes incredible science fair projects, a person knitting fantastic clothing, a developmentally disabled artist making engaging drawings or sculptures, a mathematician that composes visually compelling notations, or a sign painter who creates great window displays.”
Perhaps Fletcher and Hoffmann will also want to include hobbyists who make funny masks out of gourds.
These multiple biennials (and who knows, maybe even more will sprout up before spring arrives) are rushing in to fill the leadership vacuum left in the wake of the increasingly disconnected Portland Art Museum. PAM's decision to kill its well-respected Oregon Biennial in favor of the musty and anemic Contemporary Northwest Art Awards highlights an abdication on PAM's part and an unfulfilled need in our community to showcase artwork that is relevant, vital, organic, and au courant.
During the past 10 years, Portland has ceased being a trickle-down art scene that takes cues from PAM, and has become a vital grassroots petri dish, with creativity bubbling up from below. While PAM is hosting traveling mega-shows such as the propagandist pabulum of China Design Now
, the real cultural lead is being advanced by private-sector initiatives such as New American Art Union's Couture
series, Milepost 5's programming, and a bevy of eastside galleries that have been consistently offering up shows of the caliber and energy that have put the Portland art scene on the map in recent years. It is easy to second-guess Disjecta's forthcoming biennial selectees and easier still to lampoon PICA's self-consciously lowbrow plea for amateur “art,” but both of these organizations are stepping up to the plate as PAM languishes under its own torpor.
For more information about Portland 2010, visit www.disjecta.org. For more information about The People's Biennial, visit www.pica.org.