mack McFarland

PNCA answers some questions about closing the craft museum

In a follow-up interview Pacific Northwest College of Art's Casey Mills and Mack McFarland talk about the museum and its next iteration

The news that Pacific Northwest College of Art is going to close the doors of the Museum of Contemporary Craft landed on Wednesday. We posted the news as quickly as possible on ArtsWatch, but lots of questions remained.

I interviewed interim president Casey Mills and PNCA exhibitions director Mack McFarland on Thursday to find out more about the absorption of the museum into a new Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, to be housed at PNCA, as well as the decision-making process and rationale behind this radical outcome.

Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn (Ceramic Works, 5000 BCE – 2010 CE), installation view, 2010, Museum of Contemporary Craft. Photo by: Jake Stangel

Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn (Ceramic Works, 5000 BCE – 2010 CE), installation view, 2010, Museum of Contemporary Craft. Photo by: Jake Stangel

The Museum of Contemporary Craft dates back to 1937, after all, and during its life it has been an important flagship for Portland’s large crafts community, especially those concerned with ceramics. More recently, it has helped make Portland part of the national and international conversation around craft and art, without losing sight of our local history. Its failure to make it on its own is a blow to the city in many ways, which I’ll be discussing in subsequent stories.

But first we need to understand what is happening and why PNCA took the path it did.


Vanessa Van Obberghen: Emotional data

Awash in data, how do we remember the meaning and the feeling behind the information


In the Anthropocene, within which our “information society” is nestled, information visualization is seen as key to cracking the code with the problem of Big Data. The issue, we are told, is that there are too many likes, too many advertisement clicks, too many searches, too many flu viruses, in the end, too many ones and zeros—and not enough creative ways to utilize the information, be it for altruistic or nefarious reasons. Artists have been working with data visualization since, one could argue, inhabiting the Lascaux Caves, and certainly since the Conceptual turn of the 1970s.

In 2015, here in Portland, Oregon upon the floor and walls of the modestly sized and substantially relevant Worksound International, we can view an exhibition of works by Vanessa Van Obberghen that leap from the sterile information aesthetic to entangle data with the ever subjective emotions of humans.


About this time every year our neighbor calls to gently complain about the noise coming from our pond at night. The frogs, in their throes of passion, disturb his sleep. Curious. The frogs have the opposite effect on me. They lull me to sleep, the perfect white noise machine. Yet, every once in a while, because of some kind of full agreement I don’t understand or out of caution, they’ll stop chirping. And in these quiet moments, if there’s any wind at all, I can hear that same neighbor’s numerous wind chimes.

Before visiting “The International Invitational Triennial of Contemporary Wind Chimes” at Rocksbox Contemporary Fine Art last week, I anticipated I would find myself in some sort of calamitous cacophony (sorry) of sound. Instead, in the absence of a breeze, it was only visually so.

Sixty pieces of art are scattered about the two levels and stairwell of the gallery. Most are hung on a continuous line of parachute cord latticed and woven a foot or so from the ceiling, sometimes lower. This in itself makes it rather hard to navigate some parts of the show; other times difficulty in passage is more a matter of the proximity of one piece of art to another or several pieces blocking one’s way. There is little if any perceptible wind in the space, yet manual manipulation is allowed if one wants to hear any “chiming.” Some pieces I was not inclined to touch at all, such as Gary Robbin’s chime, “Ding Dong,” which consists of a collection of black dildos.

True to the “no holds barred” approach to curation we have come to expect from the gallery’s director, Patrick Rock, the overall tenor of this exhibit is raucous, yet also imaginative and smart. Truly international, there are artists from Canada, Austria, England, France and Iceland, although the majority of artists hail from the West Coast. The chimes are organized into several categories: “Conceptual Assholes” is in a room upstairs; “Witchcraft” fills the hallway upstairs; “Show me the Money” is laid out in the stairwell; wandering the first floor space will take the visitor through “Sausage Party” (where “Ding Dong” is front and center), “Bad Habits,” “No, It’s Cool, You Can Trust me, I Am a Feminist…” and “Dirty Smelly Hippy Types.” Equally distinct is the success some pieces have over others in inventiveness and/or construction.


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