News & Notes: Arts and presidents, auctions, ‘Grimm’ star, etc.

Kennedy's arts legacy, Disjecta arts auction, Sasha Roiz at Center Stage, links and reminders

During the past 50 years, the excavation of the life of John F. Kennedy has chipped away at his reputation, enough so that for younger Americans it must be difficult to understand why his assassination left such a mark on those of us alive at the time. That’s because his presidency was more symbolic than anything else: He represented a new, bright, energetic generation of Americans with new ideas and ambitions. No, make that better ideas and better ambitions. Did we think he was “perfect” as a human? No, I don’t think we did, even if we were young when he was killed.

Anyway, one of those better ideas Kennedy had was acknowledging and supporting the arts. Mark Swed, the LA Times music critic, remembers:

“Art was there from the beginning for the Kennedy administration. The great, barrier-breaking, African American contralto Marian Anderson sang at the inauguration. My favorite photo of the Kennedy era is a picture of [Leonard] Bernstein and Frank Sinatra backstage at an inaugural ball as they waited to go on, each trying to appear cooler than the other and each looking like he had just been given the keys to the country.

John Steinbeck, W.H. Auden and Robert Lowell were on hand. In all, the president — no doubt at the urging of the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy — invited 50 writers and artists and musicians to the inauguration.”


John and Jackie Kennedy campaign in Appleton, Wisconsin/Jeff Dean

OK, given the gossip, maybe that Sinatra reference is going to raise a snicker or two, and as Swed says, the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, deserves a lot of credit for the embrace of the arts by Kennedy. But the excitement the Kennedy Administration created extended to the arts and created yet more excitement in the process. The arts are like that. And since Kennedy, no president has seemed as comfortable with art and matters cultural and philosophical as he did. Our politicians mostly prefer to proudly profess their ignorance of painting, music, dance, literature, and philosophy, except maybe to tip their hat toward a cartoon show or a country music song. Even in Oregon.


Last night was opening night for “Twist Your Dickens” at Portland Center Stage, and a surprise guest showed up and made a cameo appearance onstage: Sasha Roiz of “Grimm.” That’ll get those palpitations going in the audience!

Sasha Roiz joined Scrooge Craig Cackowski opening night of 'Twist Your Dickens'/Portland Center Stage

Sasha Roiz joined Scrooge Craig Cackowski opening night of ‘Twist Your Dickens’/Portland Center Stage

AL Adams will be reviewing this for ArtsWatch soon. Stay tuned!


The record-breaking Sotheby and Christie contemporary art auctions reflect the international art market and couldn’t seem further from Portland’s little regional scene. Francis Bacon’s triptych of artist Lucien Freud topped out at $142 million, a sum that would fund all of the activities of the Portland Art Museum for eight years (according to its most recently available tax return). I talked about it briefly earlier this week.

Coincidentally, Disjecta, the Portland contemporary arts center, held its benefit auction (silent and paddle) last weekend, so I thought it might be interesting to compare results. For starters, it was a big success: according to the gallery’s Jana Fay Ragsdale the event had a 40% increase in the gross over 2012 and 75% over 2011, with the paddle auction taking in 76% more than last year. The top three selling works were by Virginia Poundstone ($2300) Susan Seubert ($2400), and Sean Healy ($2300).

Now, those numbers don’t represent the extent of the market here, of course, but we rarely encounter work here selling for more than $20,000. Bacon was born in 1909, two years before Portland artist Carl Morris, who was probably the best-selling artist in the city during his lifetime. You can still see his big luscious abstract paintings in offices and public buildings all over town (Morris is still represented by Laura Russo Gallery). And although Morris had galleries in New York and San Francisco, was collected by lots of museums around the country, and was chosen for seven Whitney biennials in his day, it’s incomprehensible at this point that a painting of his (even a set of three) would command $100,000, no matter how wonderful.

My point is really simple: The market value of something has to do more with “market” than “value.” In some important ways, those big auctions de-value the vast majority of artists and their work, simply by making them seem small. Let me make an assertion here: The Disjecta auction had far more actual positive value than the jousting by billionaires over the Francis Bacon triptych, which belongs in a museum in any case.


Speaking of the Portland Art Museum, a recent survey by the museum indicated that most people in the Portland metro area do NOT realize that admission is absolutely free for visitors 17 and under. That’s FREE. Yes, something free has a lot of value, sometimes. This is one of those times.


Some quick links:

ArtWatch’s AL Adams interviewed Darius Pierce, back for his second year as Crumpet in “The Santaland Diaries” at Portland Center Stage. “Even if you consider me a jester in this show, I get the same luxury as Hamlet. I don’t have to hide anything from other characters on the stage, so I can just talk freely to the audience for 80 minutes. I guess so far in this interview I’ve compared myself to Jon Stewart, Hamlet, and Sir Ben Kingsley.”

If your persuasions run in a musical direction, you really must get in touch with Brett Campbell’s Weekend MusicWatch!

Maybe your Wednesday is feeling humdrum? Try the Wanderlust Social at Dante’s.

Michael Kaiser is leaving the Kennedy Center early and he’s taking his arts administration program, the De Vos Institute, with him. (We’ve heard rumblings that a Portland intervention may be on the docket?)


Promotional Video of the Day:

American ME: Coming Home from WITD | Mizu Desierto on Vimeo.

3 Responses.

  1. Jack Gabel says:

    hey, our POTUS du jour, down with the people’s art – GAGNAM STYLE – awesome!

    check Daily Mail pixs

    interesting… only token military – not surprising – 6 generals removed just before election – some say a putsch faction linked to Benghazi black-op/psy-op – spooky business

    more pertinent to JFK than most Americans can handle – we don’t do coups… at least not that we know of

  2. Rob W says:

    It is very unfortunate that ridicule of contemporary art has become a cultural value, rather than experimentation in art as a model for creativity and entrepreneurship to be celebrated.

    Could a president reverse that trend? The way the press works today, unlikely.

    All around a very insightful post. Thanks.

    • Barry Johnson says:

      Rob, Thanks for comment and I totally agree. The ridicule of art by politicians, even local city council members (ahem), underscores that “value,” but doesn’t create it, I’m afraid. I’d love to see what effect a president (or a mayor!) who regularly invites artists to the table (not just at Kennedy Center or inaugural galas) would have on that anti-art meme.

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