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Things get HOT for the holidays

Chris Murray tosses a pitchy log on the Yuletide fire, MORE!

Very occasionally in oh-so-polite Portland arts circles, someone utters an intemperate remark or two. Startling! And then, some infinitessimal number of those very occasional remarks are emailed to a journalist. Oh happy day!

Chris Murray and Isaac Lamb in "The Aliens"/Third Rail Repertory Theatre

Chris Murray and Isaac Lamb in “The Aliens”/Third Rail Repertory Theatre

So, yes, Chris Murray (who can be gloriously open about his opinions) sent Alison Hallett (the arts editor of the Mercury, who knows fun when she sees it) an email. ostensibly to explain why he’s starting a new theater company called Whizz-Bang. But it didn’t take Murray long to get himself into full rant (and as Hallett noticed, keyboarding on his phone (!)). You should read the whole thing because the issues it raises are really interesting but also because, yeah, intemperate!

Theatre seems produced largely through fear. Fear of the subscriber, the donor, the audience, the squeaky wheels. In most performance houses in America, it’s an old crowd that patronizes theatre. Portland has a ton of hip seniors who love theatre (thank fucking god), but there can nevertheless be a lack of excitement and funding for live entertainment that doesn’t fall into the standard category of theatre.

Now, I don’t think that the financials of what Murray wants to do actually pencil out, but that doesn’t make his observations about the current state of things wrong.


If you missed the terrific tenor Nicholas Phan perform this past year in Eugene and/or Portland, here’s a chance to hear him singing a few folk song arrangements by Benjamin Britten.


David Stabler, the eminence gris of The Oregonian’s arts staff, called up the Oregon Symphony to see how things were going. Maybe he’d heard some of the same rumblings I’d heard. Anyway, the news from the symphony was all good: donations are up, and ticket sales are up $1 million over last year. The only disconcerting note in the story? That these positives “do not point to a balanced budget.” Uh-oh. We’ll be getting into this very DEEPLY in January.


It’s devoutly hoped that the Oregon Symphony doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the Minnesota Orchestra, where while the musicians are playing, management is “turtling.”


Its 2010 “Joy to the World” album is probably playing on more stereos at the moment, but a new mini-documentary about the making of Pink Martini’s 2013 “Get Happy” album is up. Storm Large meets Phyllis Diller!


The New Yorker’s John Lahr, himself a National Treasure, reports on the last show of Dame Edna

Beauty and a Beastly good show

A little fairy-tale fervor for the holidays hits the right notes in the Newmark

This year, for the first time in I can’t recall how long, I’m taking a pass on “The Nutcracker.” Martha Ullman West has handled the reporting on Oregon Ballet Theatre’s most recent production of it quite admirably, and without professional obligation I’ve decided to give the sugarplums a little rest.


That leaves a hole for the requisite big splashy fantasy show to light up the holiday season, and – surprise! – here comes the Disney musical-theater version of “Beauty and the Beast” to fill it in quite winningly. Pixie Dust Productions’ show opened Saturday night in the Newmark Theatre, and I caught Sunday’s matinee, which was pretty well packed with parents, teens, young princesses, and musical-theater aficionados, almost all of whom leapt to their feet at the show’s conclusion and clapped in rhythm to the orchestra as the large cast took its curtain calls. This didn’t seem the usual Portland rolling ovation, in which people slowly and semi-reluctantly struggle to their feet because they think they’re supposed to. It seemed genuine and spontaneous: an enthusiastic reward for a job well done.

Pixie Dust is musical-theater veteran Greg Tamblyn’s baby, and he’s both an excellent technician and a true believer, a canny combination of head and heart. Working on a decidedly non-Broadway budget, he gets a huge visual bang for his buck, and he casts extremely well. The songs, by Alan Mencken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and (after Ashman’s death from AIDS) Tim Rice, aren’t terribly demanding technically, but they’re lyrical and memorable, with an exquisite blend of familiarity and surprise, and they do demand well-trained voices that have both size and control. Across the board, from Erin Charles’s plucky Belle and Leif Norby’s wounded Beast to 8-year-old trouper Aida Valentine’s Chip, the precocious teacup, this “Beauty and the Beast” is beautifully sung. And it’s acted (and danced: choreography by Broadway vet Amy Beth Frankel) with a keen sense of the play’s subtle blend of comedy and drama, demonstrating yet again that Portland’s musical-theater scene is stronger and broader than it’s been in years.

I’ve seen several versions of “B & B,” and it took me a while to warm up to it, I think partly because the 1991 animated movie on which it’s based still seems so close to perfect: light, fizzy, quick, inventive, utterly charming. When Disney brought the tale out as a Broadway stage musical in 1994 the show seemed bloated by comparison: overlong, heavier, stretched out and bogged down. Several later productions did little to shake that impression, including a hot-and-cold Broadway touring show at Keller Auditorium a little less than two years ago, and I’d pretty much accepted that, while the stage version had a lot of strengths, it was no match for the movie original.

Johanne and Wheatley, getting whoop-de-doo. Pixie Dust Productions

Johannes and Wheatley, getting whoop-de-doo. Pixie Dust Productions

Pixie Dust’s production is making me rethink that. The movie was a soufflé: a French Baroque lark with dashes of Moulin Rouge, old-time Broadway dazzle, and Maurice Chevalier wink. The stage version is more a cassoulet: strong, rich, hearty, and deep. While it retains a lot of the fun of the film version, it’s about twice as long and so naturally heavier. It lacks the film’s sleek lightness, but by having real people behind the costumes and makeup, it adds a human weight that, when it’s performed well, deepens the emotional impact without sacrificing the fairy-tale sense of wonder. Things are a little more obvious in the stage version, but that, too, adds to the humanizing effect. And even the showy smoke and mirrors and flashes of light, so reminiscent of 19th century theatrical tricks, add an intriguing historical wrinkle to the tale. The musical-stage version still seems a bit long, especially in the first act, but the payoff is in the added shadings. In the end, the film’s a film, and the show’s a show, and they’re alike, but different.

“Beauty and the Beast” isn’t strictly a Christmas show, but it fits the season. It’s wintery, with Beast filling the metaphorical role of a kind of Ice Queen who gradually melts as he discovers love. It involves a great sacrifice (more than one, actually) that leads not just to a happy ending, but a transformative one. And on a less exalted note, some of those scenes – the terrific “Be Our Guest” sequence comes to mind – are gorgeous gifts to slip under anyone’s tree. On a different, more sociological note, Linda Woolverton’s book and Ashman and Rice’s lyrics also strike an urban tone that’s at odds with older Disney animated fairy tales: they’re quite pointed about the backwardness and occasional cruelty of tradition-bound provincial life, and quite forward about the liberating and civilizing effects of the search for knowledge, which translates to an urban outlook on life. (And if you want a “Nutcracker” tie-in, Sunday afternoon’s audience was sprinkled with excited girls all dolled up in little-princess finery.)

As Belle and Beast, Charles and Norby are particularly well-matched, both vocally and dramatically. Charles is bold and proud and outspoken, without a whiff of demure princess to her. Norby brings a haunted, hunted emotional reverberation to his portrayal that several touring-show Beasts, relying more on the cartoon aspects of the role, haven’t managed. Among the fine supporting performances, I was particularly taken with Stacey Murdock’s booming and beautifully sung portrayal of the buffoonish Gaston (and his ability to slide from comic relief to genuine villain). Also worth noting are Pam Mahon’s Brunnhilde-ish Madame de la Grande Bouche, the chest of drawers; Amy Jo Halliday’s motherly and efficient Mrs. Potts; Sara Catherine Wheatley’s coquettish romp as the maid Babette; and the comedy team of Dale Johannes and Joe Thiessen as, respectively, the candlestick Lumiere and Cogsworth the clock. The young Jefferson Dancers, from the city’s storied dance-magnet high school program, were sprightly and competent in the chorus-line roles. And that terrific Portland voice talent Sam A. Mowry got the proceedings rolling like elocutionary thunder with his opening narration.

Murdock and Charles: Muscle and the Mind. Pixie Dust Productions

Murdock and Charles: Muscle and the Mind. Pixie Dust Productions

As director, Tamblyn brings all of these elements together into a whole that has a surprising emotional effect. And Alan D. Lytle, the conductor and musical director, makes sure the music meets the show’s high expectations. He leads a good 11-piece pit orchestra that sounds thin only during the overture and entr’acte, when the reliance on a pair of keyboards to simulate a full orchestra sound is a little too obvious. But those are the economic realities of the business, and largely out of Tamblyn’s and Lytle’s hands. The last touring version had the same-sized pit band, but it was in the 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium, and some clumsy attempts to fill the house by pumping up the electronic volume were painful. Lytle’s orchestra fits the much smaller Newmark much more warmly and snugly, and the Newmark itself, with its burnished Edwardian stateliness, melds well with the play’s Baroque trappings. Be their guest.


“Beauty and the Beast” continues through December 29 in the Newmark Theatre. Ticket and schedule information here.

The ensemble. Pixie Dust Productions

The ensemble. Pixie Dust Productions


Read more from Bob Hicks >>

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News & Notes catches its breath

Additional notes on Francis Bacon, the Oregon Secretary of the Arts, and The Nutcracker

Today, barring the unforeseen (which we have a hard time barring), we’ll take a breather and catch-up on some of the developments of the past few days. Crazy, even for Christmas.

For example, Portland’s holiday surprise opens on Saturday, but the news came yesterday: Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” the $147 million triptych that touched off endless columns about the depravity of the art market, will be shown at the Portland Art Museum. This combination of art and money led Bob Hicks to write, “In other words: Portland museumgoers are about to see not just a landmark of 20th century art, they’re also going to get to gawk at a trophy of the New World Order.”

Here at ArtsWatch, you can read the basic account or jump straight into Mr. Hicks’ deeper meditation. And we’ll be engaging with the paintings themselves soon enough.

The unanswered questions are the name of the owner and why that owner decided to show the painting here. The New York Times speculated that it might be Paul Allen because the Allen Foundation gave the museum a three-year grant to fund special exhibitions, but chief curator Bruce Guenther denied that. He did say that it was someone who lived on the West Coast, however. And Judith H. Dobrzynski on her Real Clear Arts blog mentioned Eli Broad, though goodness knows he has access to lots of potential exhibition spaces in LA, and why wouldn’t he save it for the opening of his own museum next year?


What’s gnarlier than Bacon’s portraits of his old pal Lucien Freud? How about the twisted flow chart of the executive director or the Oregon Arts Commission. (OK, yes: Or this particular segue…)

First, I took a look at the vectors of power bearing down on the commission’s director and the historical context that made the job practically impossible, for Christine D’Arcy, who was fired from it last month, or anyone else.

And then, I advanced a few ideas about how to create a new system that avoids the wacky structure, elevates the arts in both the legislature and the bureaucracy, and maybe then helps to change that historical context. I even invented a position: The Oregon Secretary of the Arts.

The rumbling I heard yesterday was that similar ideas are percolating down in Salem, even as I type, though as a practical matter the changes I talked about are going to take some time and heavy political lifting. I’ll be writing more as time goes by.


Xuan Cheng as Dewdrop. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Xuan Cheng as Dewdrop. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

If you’re looking for a full-blown review of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s version of Balanchine’s “Nutcracker,” look no further. Martha Ullman West covered it for ArtsWatch, and I haven’t seen another version. West has tracked OBT’s holiday hit from the beginning of the company, and her account reflects both that long acquaintance and the far shorter one of her guest at the matinee.

Here at Oregon ArtsWatch, we believe that Oregon artists are making some of the world’s most compelling dance, music, theater and visual arts, and that Oregon arts lovers—our readers—need to know about it. In fact, we exist to bridge that gap between creators of Oregon art and the Oregonians who want to experience it.

Unfortunately, artists themselves aren’t always the best promoters of their own creations, and many of those doing the most interesting work are precisely those who can’t afford to hire professional help to get the word out. Today’s technology makes it a lot easier for even low-budget, independent artists to do that, yet too many Oregon composers (particularly those who work outside pop music) haven’t provided an easy way for listeners—and potential performers—to hear their music. It’s not the only reason too many Oregon performers and presenters deplorably deny Oregon music to Oregon audiences, but the absence of an easy way to find that music certainly doesn’t help. Even journalists who want to cover Oregon music often find it difficult to tell our readers what they’re likely to be hearing when they consider attending one of those rare non-pop concerts with an Oregon composer’s music on the program.

So we decided to do something about it.


We’ve made Oregon ComposersWatch, an ArtsWatch page that’s a resource for listeners and performers interested in Oregon music, particularly (for now, at least) those who write in what’s inadequately called “contemporary classical” arenas, but really, it’s for any Oregon composer who wants someone to play or hear their music.

Each composer has a page on OCW that provides a bit of biographical information and links to YouTube, SoundCloud and other online sources of the music. Performers, journalists and listeners who want to know what an Oregon composer’s music sounds like now have a one-stop place to find out.

To make it happen, we turned to our friend Gary Ferrington in Eugene, a retired University of Oregon faculty member who has has worked with Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts, edits the newsletter of the World Forum on Acoustic Ecology and ardently pursues the music of contemporary composers, particularly emerging Oregon composers.


Gary Ferrington

“Although I have a deep respect for music of the classical past, I’ve always been most connected with the contemporary voices of my time be that in music, art, theater, dance, or literature,” he says. “I attribute this to the ‘golden age’ of television that introduced me to the artists of the day including the music of Leonard Bernstein, the conducting of Arturo Toscanini, the play- and screenwriting of Paddy Chayefsky and James Agee, and the many other artists in various fields. I also thank my piano teacher who encouraged me to perform music by living composers such as Leo Sowerby, Aaron Copland, and Paul Creston. It only seems natural for me to search out and listen to new work and consequently I have a special interest in those emerging voices that can often be found today on the world wide Internet.”

Gary, who earlier this year told ArtsWatch readers about the composers’ scene at the UO,  and about how arts lovers can hear new music via live streams, also seemed a natural choice to set up and host the OCW page for ArtsWatch, and we’re enormously grateful to him for that, and for all his efforts to spotlight Oregon music and art. We hope you are, too.

We asked a pair of ArtsWatch’s regular contributors who lead double lives—as Oregon composer and long-time performer of Oregon contemporary music, respectively—to give their perspective on why ComposersWatch matters to Oregon arts lovers.

“Traditional media outlets in Oregon are paying less and less attention to any music that doesn’t fall into familiar commercial, popular genres,” explains Portland composer and pianist Jeff Winslow. “At the same time, the number of Oregon composers exploring their art outside these genres keeps getting larger and larger. Thank heavens Oregon ArtsWatch is around to pick up the slack and showcase their work with Oregon ComposersWatch, not only for Oregon audiences who are curious about what their composer neighbors are up to, but for anyone worldwide interested in compositional voices nourished by Oregon’s famed natural environment.”

Pianist Maria Choban has been performing music by Oregonians and other contemporary composers for decades in solo concerts and ensembles, alongside the classics. “I’ve had the greatest success at my own concerts performing music by Oregonians like Tomas Svoboda, Brent Weaver, Mark Vigil, Ted Clifford,” she writes. “OAW has certainly made it easy for us performers and presenters to explore this rich vein. I cannot think of a better time for us Oregon performers and presenters to grow up, stop worshipping dead Europeans or living Brooklynites/Los-Angelenos, and delve into our own rich talent pool of Oregonian composers. Do we want to be sheeply followers or do we want to come together, become leaders and show off our Oregonian talent, becoming a role model on the world scene?  I’m ready for us to be something more than simply Portlandia-parody-worthy.”

Of course, all we can do is provide the means; it’s up to Oregon composers to contribute and update their profiles, so this venture’s success depends entirely on their initiative. But you can help. Please check out the site, spread the word to composers whose music you think deserves attention, and to performers who might play it, and let Gary know how to improve  it, via the contact info at the OCW site. Feel free to comment here as well, but first please visit  Oregon ComposersWatch and hear the music Oregonians are making today.


Want to read more about Oregon  music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

PAM’s big coup & the art of money

Francis Bacon's $142 million triptych lands at the museum, bringing the game-shifting economics of the New World Order with it

Talk about a coup. The Portland Art Museum announced today that the most buzzed-about international painting of the year – actually, it’s three paintings, a 1969 triptych by Francis Bacon titled “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” – is landing at the museum, where it’ll go up in a solo exhibition opening December 21 and continuing through March 30 of next year. As they say in advertising and greeting-card land: Happy holidays.

Francis Bacon, "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," 1969

Francis Bacon, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” 1969

It’s tough to exaggerate the size and splashiness of this coup. The paintings are modern masterworks, and the fact that one of the 20th century’s signature painters, Bacon, chose as his subject another signature 20th century painter, Freud (who also happened to be a grandson of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud), makes them doubly significant. Add to that the well-known fact that Bacon and Freud were good friends and also, in a way, professional rivals, and the backstory threatens to come out front.

But what really makes this huge news is economics – the “dismal science” all dolled up in a sexy new outfit and ready to party. “Three Studies” rocked the art world (and made waves in the large part of the world that couldn’t care two figs about art) when it sold at auction last month for an astounding $142.4 million. The sale price is a record at auction. So far. In other words: Portland museumgoers are about to see not just a landmark of 20th century art, they’re also going to get to gawk at a trophy of the New World Order.

We don’t know who bought the triptych (“It’s from a private collection and the lender asks to remain anonymous,” Portland museum spokeswoman Beth Heinrich said Monday), and that anonymity is an undeniable part of the story’s allure. Who is this free-spending art lover? Is he (it’s probably a he) truly a lover of art, or did he buy it mainly because he can, as a symbol of economic swagger, rather like buying a $5,000 bottle of wine and never drinking it? Could it possibly be both? The fact that the buyer is willing to put his purchase on public display almost immediately, and in a relatively little-known regional museum, at that, hints that there might be genuine passion for the art behind the purchase. And not just Portland but the whole art world is going to be bubbling with the question: Who is that masked man? You can’t buy better P.R. than that.

But what about that 142 million bucks? The art world has a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with money. Several years ago, when I was editing at a large (at the time) metropolitan daily newspaper, I suggested that reviews of gallery shows should include in their information boxes a range of prices for works in the exhibits being discussed. I was shouted down. Money has nothing to do with the quality of the art, the critic proclaimed. Art is above economics, maybe even in an alternate universe from it. To discuss prices would be to commodify something sacred. I gave up. It wasn’t, frankly, that big a deal.

Yet in another sense, money is everything in the art world. Artists build their sale prices to a certain level, and from there they can go up but they can’t afford to go down, or their reputations will take a beating. During the 2008 recession and afterwards, a lot of very good artists saw their work sit unsold because they couldn’t drop their prices to reflect the new realities of a depressed market. On the everyday level of regional and non-superstar artists, those days have eased but haven’t ended. At the top of the market, things are going crazy. The $100 million sale price, not so long ago almost unheard of, is like that quaint 1,200 barrier in the Dow Jones industrial average: a nostalgic reminder of simpler times. Collectors are buying on the margin, betting that today’s astronomical price tag will be tomorrow’s bargain – and also, in the world of vast sudden fortunes, buying to add a patina of culture to their newfound assumption of raw economic power. This isn’t a new story – ever heard of the Medici? – but as the world’s wealth flows ever upward, it’s a resurgent one.

What does this mean to museums? For one thing, it means that loans such as this one will be the best they can hope for. The secondary market – those resales at the big auction houses – has become so bloated that even the wealthiest of museums, such as the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, can afford only occasional and strategically plotted major purchases. Again, this is an old story, different now only because it’s become even more exaggerated. For the museum-going public, it means that fewer great works will be available for viewing in permanent museum collections, because more and more top-rank works will be in private hands. And what THAT means is that museums must double down on one of their quietest yet most important roles: currying private collectors in the hope that at least a part of their collections will eventually come to the museums as a result of donations or bequests. If you believe that great art should ultimately belong to the public – and I do – then you should also believe that museums should be throwing vast amounts of energy into their relationships with collectors, because museums will never be able to compete with private collectors on the open market: they must rely on the collectors’ largesse.

Bacon, "Study for a Self-Portrait," 1985-86, private collection/Wikimedia Commons

Bacon, “Study for a Self-Portrait,” 1985-86, private collection/Wikimedia Commons

The same thing applies to loans such as this one. (The Portland museum can’t even begin to join the discussion of buying such a work.) Portland museum director Brian Ferriso and chief curator Bruce Guenther should be congratulated for pulling this off: odds are very high that their “luck” is largely a result of long work making connections inside the art world, so when the chance came, they were able to capitalize on it. The Bacon triptych will be presented as the latest in the museum’s “Masterworks/Portland” series that has also included temporary solo exhibitions of Raphael’s “La Velata,” Titian’s “La Bella,” and Thomas Moran’s “Shoshone Falls on the Snake River.”

It’s intriguing that the Bacon/Freud announcement came just two days after the opening of one of Portland’s most interesting annual art events, at least from a social point of view: the People’s Art of Portland’s Big 400 Art Show, which continues through January 12 at downtown’s Pioneer Place Mall. The idea couldn’t be more different – more than 400 artists (more than 500, actually, despite the title), from unknowns and amateurs to well-known gallery artists – creating 8-by-8-inch works that sell for $40. More than 4,000 works are available, many of them quite good, some of them otherwise, but the point is closer to that unnamed critic’s contention that art and economics live in different universes. A lot of these artists will undoubtedly lose money on the deal, but they do it anyway, for love of the game. Plus, a share of the money goes to the Oregon Food Bank – people’s art, indeed.

On the other hand, we don’t live in a pristine world, and what value the world at large places on art is invariably the sort of value that arrives with a price tag. Witness the ongoing spectacle (a very nasty one) of the fate of the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of the nation’s finest museums, whose masterpieces are in danger of being sold off – to private collectors, almost certainly – in order to help pay off the bankrupt city’s debts. The auction house Christie’s has its fingers all over this one, supplying the bankruptcy referee with estimates of the market value of individual works in anticipation of an auction. It’s just business, after all, although one can hope that Christie’s is also trying to make the case that a sale would bring a short-term profit that wouldn’t be worth the long-term loss.

And the art marketplace is further being roiled by the emergence of China as a major international player. The New York Times has just filed a fascinating report on the rapid rise of the mostly state-owned Beijing Poly International Auction, which has become the world’s third-largest art auction house, and what that might mean to the world market. If you want to play, you’d better have a very big wad of cash, and quite possibly a lot of lubrication.

In the meantime, we’re going to have “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” to contemplate, in the flesh, and we’ll have a chance to think of the triptych in both its artistic and economic elements. In a way, that heady sales price represents a rebuke of sorts to the world of the mid-20th century critic Clement Greenberg. Greenberg was a major champion of the abstract expressionists, and the economic triumph of Bacon and Freud is also a triumph for figurative art, which ab-ex and minimalism had so roundly rejected. The Portland museum’s purchase of Greenberg’s personal collection of mid-century art in 2000 may well have been its most recent big splash in international waters before the Bacon coup. What emerges, perhaps, is that Greenberg had a perceptive eye for something important that was happening in New York in the mid-20th century – and that the art he championed is now not the end of art, after all, but an honorable and honored chapter in the vast and continuing book of art history.

And what about these three Bacon paintings? Take a look, think, compare, contrast, soak in, feel, think again. Consider that $142 million price tag, but from a distance. What does it mean? Is it a reasonable measure of the paintings’ worth, whatever “worth” means? How does it compare to the Titian or the Raphael? Are we now to think of Bacon in the same way we think of Rembrandt, Brueghel, Delacroix, Dürer, Michelangelo, Turner, Picasso? Is he an Old Master? A New Master? A Not-Quite-New-But-Not-Old Master? Does it matter? How does he represent his time and place? How deep does his work go? When you see it, what do you feel? Are you in the presence of greatness? These are good things to ask. Let the questioning begin.






Portland Art Museum brings home the Bacon

Francis Bacon's record-breaking "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" will show here starting Saturday

Remember all our gnashing of teeth about the Francis Bacon triptych of fellow artist and pal Lucian Freud? The one that fetched the staggering $142.4 million at auction last month? Well, it’s coming to Portland, in one of the biggest arts surprises ever sprung on the city.

The Portland Art Museum just announced that the new owner had agreed to allow the museum to exhibit the painting(s), starting Saturday, December 21.

Museum Director Brian Ferriso and Chief Curator Bruce Guenther had been looking for an appropriate contemporary art piece to show in its Masterworks/Portland series, which previously featured Raphael’s “La Velata,” Titian’s “La Bella,” and Thomas Moran’s “Shoshone Falls on the Snake River.” “When the collector agreed to our request to exhibit the triptych,” Ferriso wrote in the press release about the Bacon showing, “we knew that it would be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our visitors to see this seminal work.”

Francis Bacon, "Three Studies of Lucian Freud"/Portland Art Museum

Francis Bacon, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud”/Portland Art Museum

“Three Studies of Lucian Freud” (1969) received a ton of attention after the record-breaking auction sale, but mostly about the event, not the painting itself. This showing will give us a chance to engage with it as a painting and with Bacon as an artist instead of as a sign of the apocalypse, though I suppose its possible to argue that the painting itself may suggest that we are in the middle of the apocalypse now.

“Bacon captures the spirit of Freud, rendering him as a tightly coiled mass of energy, ready to spring from the caned bentwood chair positioned in front of a brass bed,” wrote Guenther. “The expressive, volatile brushwork that delineates Freud’s hands and face acts as a brilliant foil to the smooth rendering of the highly abstracted objects and space.”

The press release also detailed its ownership and exhibition history: “First shown in Italy and subsequently in Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1971-72, the triptych was separated and sold into three different private collections. It disappeared from view for more than 15 years before being reunited by an Italian collector in the 1990s.” It will return to the private collection after the exhibition here, though it’s a good sign for future public access that the collector is willing to share it with the Portland Art Museum.


The unanswered questions from Day One’s accounts are the name of the owner and why that owner decided to show the painting here. The New York Times speculated that it might be Paul Allen because the Allen Foundation gave the museum a three-year grant to fund special exhibitions, but chief curator Bruce Guenther denied that. He did say that it was someone who lived on the West Coast, however. And Judith H. Dobrzynski on her Real Clear Arts blog mentioned Eli Broad, though goodness knows he has access to lots of potential exhibition spaces in LA, and why wouldn’t he save it for the opening of his own museum next year?

Bob Hicks placed the Bacon acquisition in its current context for ArtsWatch.

I wrote about the triptych after seeing it at the Portland Art Museum

Introducing Oregon’s new Secretary of the Arts: A proposal

It's time for Salem to catch up with the public on the importance of the arts

From Friday’s ArtsWatch story, perhaps it became apparent how daunting a task Christine D’Arcy faced as the executive director of the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Cultural Trust. That was the intention, anyway.

D’Arcy, regardless of her set of strengths and shortcomings as ED, had an impossible mission meeting the wishes, so far as she could determine them, of so many masters. Buried deep on the bureaucratic flow chart, she had to contend with a legislature that really didn’t want to think about the arts most of the time, various governors with varying degrees of interest, with two small staffs administering grants panels giving small amounts of money to many open mouths, two boards of advisors without true oversight power, an arts community growing larger and more vocal, and a divided public, some increasingly aware of the importance of the arts, but unable to do much about it in the public arena, and others adamantly opposed for ideological reasons to funding the arts at all.

Time for a shake-up.


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