Jeff Jahn

On the forced closing of Place Gallery

Or: How can you be in two places at once when you're nowhere at all?

Four years ago, Pioneer Place Mall did a very groovy “Portland” thing by beginning to provide and subsidize some of the empty spaces on the third floor of its Atrium Building to people and organizations wishing to open art galleries. Last month, the owners of the mall, General Growth Properties (GGP) rescinded that agreement with, Place, the first gallery that took them up on their offer way back when. Seems there was bad blood.

Oregon ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson wrote about the closing shortly after Place Director, Gabe Flores, made it public on the gallery’s website. Since then, other arts writers have weighed in on this abrupt end to the gallery’s lease agreement, including Alison Hallett for The Mercury, Richard Speer for Willamette Week, and Jeff Jahn on his site, There was also a short segment on the local FOX affiliate, KPTV.

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

I won’t go into all of the details of the dispute between the building’s management and Flores (that’s what the links are for) ), but it seems to stem from the content of the art from the final show in the White Gallery portion of Place’s two spaces, and then Flores’ response to the objections by the powers-that-be. It’s worth a read. (link) Flores adds that the reason given for his eviction was that GPP had found a tenant to pay full rent for the space (Place was only responsible for paying utilities), yet he remains convinced that this was nothing less than a bum’s rush. The only response from GPP that I know of (GPP evidently did not respond to requests for a statement for any of the above listed articles) is a rather cursory and noncommittal written statement given to KPTV: “We do not publicly discuss tenant lease agreements, but please know Pioneer Place is very much a fan and in support of the arts,” GGP General Manager Bob Buchanan’s statement read. “Our goal is to create a unique and enjoyable shopping experience for all our customers.”

Before I get too deep into this opinion piece, I should disclose that I had an exhibit of my own work at Place last year. I have also written about the gallery on a couple of occasions, for both and Oregon ArtsWatch. (One review was less than glowing.) I have had many conversations with Flores over the years and have grown to admire his fertile mind and enthusiasm for the local art community, even though sometimes both can get the better of him. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with his torrent of ideas, and his desire for inclusiveness has resulted in more than a few half-baked exhibitions (more often than not due to the presenting artist). The first couple of years of programming did not give me much hope for his ambitious little start-up, yet Flores and the gallery persevered, and the programming gradually improved.


News & Notes passes on the Rothko Bridge

Naming the new Willamette River bridge after Mark Rothko isn't such a good idea

The Rothko Bridge.

I must admit, it has a certain ring, though in my imagination it isn’t so much a “structure” as an atmospheric blur of color that couldn’t support a pedestrian or a bike, let alone a light rail train or a bus.

But Jeff Jahn is proposing to name the new cable-stayed bridge over the Willamette River the Rothko Bridge as a serious matter. His argument as I understand it is that the name would both recognize a great artist (who lived in the city from ages 10 to 18 and then for short periods a little later) and also all the other great artists who have moved to the city, and might also help us overcome a deep-seated psychological issue: “Portland has a hard time acknowledging greatness.”

Wow: All that from naming a bridge! I propose that we rename ALL our bridges to get similar benefits out of them.

Mark Rothko, "Untitled", 1957/Courtesy Portland Art Museum

Mark Rothko, “Untitled”, 1957/Courtesy Portland Art Museum

Artist and spoilsport Paul Sutinen does a tidy job of demolishing Jahn’s argument, though. He points out that Portland and Rothko were mutually indifferent to each other while Rothko was alive, and that attempting to “claim” Rothko now is several decades late.

“Jahn says that “Portland has a hard time acknowledging highly ambitious people.” I don’t quite understand what Jahn means by acknowledging in this regard. For me this whole thing still smacks of “grabbing at the coattails of someone who became a great artist.” Our ancestors (he left 92 years ago) had damn little to do with the success of Mark Rothko. This bridge naming thing remains something like getting one’s picture taken with a celebrity so you can claim a connection.”

Given our predilection for offering standing ovations at the end of performances of various sorts, I don’t understand the acknowledging highly ambitious people (or greatness) part, either. Sometimes I think we’ll give you a standing ovation if you just manage to stay upright the whole time.

medium_medium_wave bridge

Now, I happen to think this bridge is not good enough to name after Rothko in the first place. It’s an off-the-shelf bridge with near copies around the world. In some circumstances, these bridges are perfect—especially in hilly terrain, where their peaks and angles fit right in, or on rivers with very aggressive modernist buildings on either bank. This particular site and this particular use suggest a more modest-looking bridge, like the one proposed by original bridge designer Miguel Rosales, much to the chagrin of TriMet. Rosales and his “wave bridge” were dismissed and an architect hired who would give the agency what it wanted from the beginning, a cable-stayed bridge, one advantage of which is lower cost variability.

I wrote about all of this several times back in 2009 while I was at The Oregonian (here’s my final take), and now the design decision is all water under the…oh, please! I’ve been waiting to see what it would look like once it was built, since during the design phase, TriMet never built a scale model of the bridge and its landing points on either side of the Willamette. Now that we’re starting to see the magnitude of those towers and the splay of the cable, I’m afraid I just might have been right about that bridge, although The Oregonian keeps trying to make it “iconic.” It’s not, of course. It says absolutely nothing about Portland (as Rosales best design would have) and everything about cost certainty. In its own way, it’s about as bad as the Marquam Bridge.

So, I wouldn’t name it after Rothko, especially if Rothko was deeply associated with Portland. But our relationship with him has been difficult when it hasn’t been non-existent (another topic I’ve written about, when the Portland Art Museum put together a retrospective of his work). If I were naming something after Rothko, maybe it would be a sculpture garden, a plaza outside the art school at PSU, something like that.

What I DO appreciate about Jahn’s proposal? Naming something after an artist. Let’s say the new bridge wasn’t such a Godzilla on the Willamette (the title of my last post on the matter in 2009). Who among the city’s artists should we consider naming it after? In general, my rule would be: An artist who spent a significant portion of a significant career in the state. If we were determined to go with a visual artist, I would choose CS Price, probably, though my personal favorite would be the Carl and Hilda Morris Bridge. And frankly, a dozen more artists from their time would make me happy—Mike Russo and Sally Haley, Louis Bunce, the Runquist Brothers, Amanda Snyder, Jack McCarty, Charles Heaney, etc. But maybe we should go literary and honor poet William Stafford (whose centenary is coming up) and his wife Dorothy, who just passed away? Or Ursula K. Le Guin, which would mean she could come to the bridge dedication and say something smart and funny!

For this particular bridge at his particular time, I’m stumped. I’m attracted to Cheapside Bridge, though there’s no marketplace on either bank. The opera center and OMSI are nearby on the east bank, so maybe that suggests something? The Aria Bridge? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll know it when I hear it.

Oregon ArtsWatch Archives