Place gallery

Place gallery gets the boot from Pioneer Place

Also Father Kevin Connell (Bag & Baggage's Lear) is recovering from a stroke, Profile names its 2015 playwright

Did John Dougherty's "Shit Balloons" cross a line at Pioneer Place?

Did John Dougherty’s “Shit Balloons” cross a line at Pioneer Place?

The management of Pioneer Place, General Growth Properties, has terminated the lease of Place gallery, according to Place co-founder Gabe Flores, and the gallery’s last day in the downtown mall will be March 30.

In a lengthy account on the Place website, Flores printed an email exchange he had with mall general manager Robert Buchanan. It starts with an email from Buchanan objecting to the three current shows at Place, and the demand for prior approval of Place shows (at least that’s how I read the bureaucratize). Flores responded with an email that pointed out the hypocrisy of Buchanan’s objections within the context of the other shops in the mall and the thinness of his analysis of the artwork he found objectionable. And then it closes with Flores’s account of his meeting with Buchanan, and a gracious thank you to General Growth Properties for its support of the gallery since 2010.

I have emailed Buchanan to ask for his side of the events Flores describes. When he responds, I will follow up, and perhaps talk a little bit about why contemporary art and a mall were strange bedfellows to begin with!

In the meantime, I will just pause a moment to remember the crazy quilt of shows Place has exhibited over the years, some of the ways Place had some fun with its home in a mall, and re-print the list of shows scheduled at Place for the rest of 2014, the work of artists, curators and institutions that we will miss:

Hannah Piper Burns, Palma Corral, Brooks Dierdorff, Will Elder, André Filipek, Chris Freeman, Jonathan Eric Gann, Nicolo Gentile, Erik Geschke, Ben Glas, Katherine Groesbeck, Joshua Kim, Matthew Leavitt, Rhoda London, Mark Martinez, Albert Navetta, Kayleigh Nelson, Travis Nikolai, The Pacific Northwest College of Art, Roger Peet, Julie Perini, PHAME Academy, Portland State University, Claire Redman, Nicolas Reibel, and Gary Wiseman

Perhaps more later.

Father Kevin Connell, the title character in Bag & Baggage’s production Lear, suffered a debilitating stroke last week, though the news about his recovery from the company’s Facebook page has been positive. According to the latest post on Friday, he had been moved out of ICU, “his strength is improving and he is doing better.”

Having lost its Lear, the company marshalled on with “highlights” from the show, which was a creative intervention into the text to begin with. It’s hard to imagine another version of King Lear that could possibly have continued under these circumstances. But this one did, and did very well, according to OregonLive’s Jerry Boone.

Our best to Father Connell and Bag & Baggage: This would be a good time to make a donation to the company.

Meanwhile, Northwest Classical Theatre Company’s more traditional version of King Lear, with Ted Roisum in the title role, continues through March 30. Here’s what ArtsWatch’s Marty Hughley said about Roisum’s Lear: “Indignation burns and churns in him like magma. There is bullying and bitterness in this Lear, but also biting wit and touching tenderness, self-pity and self-awareness.”

We have LOTS of theater news building up, especially pertaining to the 2014-15 season announcements by various companies. For now, we’ll just drop one: Profile Theatre has announced its subject playwright for 2015. It’s Sarah Ruhl, another alum from Paula Vogel’s theater classes at Brown University. Here’s what Profile artistic director Adriana Baer says about Ruhl:

“Sarah’s work is both profound and mundane. She writes how life actually feels, not how it looks. It’s like she’s tapped into the spiritual subconscious of all of us. Her plays are beautiful and fun and whimsical and lovely. When taken together, her plays give a full picture of our longings and our secret selves.”

The company, still in the midst of its investigation of Sam Shepard, will announce particular plays, schedules and ticket information later.

Diary of a Short-Order Art Cook

Working in Place Gallery's "On Demand"

The writer onsite at "On Demand."

The writer onsite at “On Demand.”

Last week, I checked out Place Gallery’s current show, a three-exhibit grouping of interactive works that riff on the general theme of wish fulfillment. To my surprise, participating artist Michael Reinsch invited me to come back and work a shift in his exhibit, “On Demand,” a service counter that sold artwork hastily made to order—a gallery equivalent, if you will, to fast food.

After attending a brief training with Reinsch, I reported for duty on Saturday afternoon, donning the booth’s uniform (a teal polo shirt) and standing by to serve up whatever art Place’s customers requested. Here’s my four-hour diary.


The whole third floor of the mall is steeped in bright, blank silence. I arrive at Place Gallery, greet the volunteer on duty, and survey my workstation, brimming with paints, markers, paper, specialty tape, and even kiddie craft gear like googly-eyes and pipecleaners. From the customer’s side, there’s a Specials board, room for a queue, and an order counter with a register.

The volunteer wants to buy a book from the Gallery and put the transaction through the cash register, but we can’t seem to make the machine behave. It’s locked in “error” mode, emitting a high-pitched whine. We try 20 or so key combinations before I insist that we give up and just keep a ledger. These are the little liberties of working a non-corporate gig; if this were a Starbucks, I guess we’d be stuck listening to the alarm.


The volunteers change guard, and the new one, Phillip Bone, busies himself making a sandwich-board sign for the entrance that explains that custom art can be made while you wait. He tells me to think of a “special” to offer. I’ve started slicing into neon post-its with a box cutter, and quickly decide that these will be my “special.” I decide to laminate them, call them “neon vignettes,” and list them on the Specials board.

I immediately realize that I may already be breaking the spirit of this experiment by choosing too-tidy materials. Pre-cut adhesive squares? Just call this box cutter, Ockham’s Razor.


I see a smiling woman in a smart peacoat looking in the gallery window. I wave her in, she walks over, and I briefly explain what I’m doing. In a European accent, she politely declines to order anything.


Two teenage girls come in and one orders a five-line poem. When prompted for topics, she picks Love, Nature, and Death. Michael Reinsch, On Demand’s artist, has trained me to compose poems from a binder that has suggested text organized by topic—but when I look for it today, I don’t see the binder.

“Do you want it ‘on book’ or ‘off book’?” I improvise to my customer.

“Off book,” she emphatically replies.

I spend about 30 seconds typing the following poem on my laptop, then another 30 writing it onto a piece of sketch paper:

The salamander oft stays under
waiting for the summer’s splendor
So I’ll wait, my love, forever
Til death hast pulled you thither
and summer never comes.

I’m confident that this poem contains key customer-satisfiers. “Salamander” is unexpected and fun to say. “Thither” is an obvious poet’s word. Since the poem closes on a sad note, it feels less glib and clichéd. My teen customer seems happy, and she and her friend make wishes at Katherine Groesbeck’s birthday cake display before taking off. After that, the quiet descends again.

I start to wonder if a different setup wouldn’t draw more business. Adrienne Huckabone’s film projections, the most actively alluring display, are in the rear of the gallery, cordoned off from passers-by. The volunteer station is in a confrontational spot, and my store-front is some 15 feet in from the front door…

I have to check myself. Art logistics and business logistics deeply differ. A film is best utilized in a front window, but best appreciated in a dark corner. A service counter is more convenient when it’s near you, but more surreal and mysterious when it’s far away.


Phillip puts up the sandwich-board, moves his desk to the side of the room, and eats a sandwich. My customer-service side mildly freaks out realizing the first hour has elapsed without prominent advertising. (Think of the profits lost!)


I directly beckon to a couple in gray hoodies. They smile back, then break their stare and walk away.


Another couple stroll about 4 feet in the doors, then turn around. “Don’t be afraid!” I call after them, but that only quickens their getaway pace.

3:30 to 3:50

mini-canvasesWith fidgety hands, I’ve begun to “prep cook” four canvases. I use red-wing blackbird hues (black, red, orange) and quick kanji-like brush strokes while trying to make eye contact with passersby. I leave my new masterpieces to dry.


I decide to visit the surrounding galleries (Mark Wooley and People’s Art) and pitch my service. At Wooley, a cluster of people are crowded around a computer, laughing at an image search. They ask me if I, like Reinsch, am selling makeout sessions. I say it’s not on the menu, but I will negotiate. They promise to come over. The gallery attendant at People’s also seems eager. Confident that this networking will bring some business, I return to Place.


Settling back at my counter, I ask Phillip—a 2-year veteran of Place—if it’s always this slow. He says, basically, yeah, describing the mall as “a bastion of comfortability and sameness” and Place as a startling departure from that model that most mall customers can’t process. I ask Phillip how he defines the gallery’s success, if not by profit or traffic. “The amount of publicity an exhibit gets, or the level of quality of the work,” he says.


I briefly leave my station to embark on a fruitless quest for food that meets my persnickety diet requirements, realizing that the mall seems palatial and futuristic if you’re not in it very often. Feeling almost lost, I hurry back.


neon_vignettesThroughout my afternoon, I’ve laminated several post-its. I’m just about to snap a photo of myself with giant googly eyes when exhibiting artist Jamie Marie Waelchli swings by. She asks for Michael, but I mis-hear her and point her to Gabe. I realize I’ve done this completely without thinking, letting my chippy customer-service acumen kick in without my intellect. I apologize.

Jamie orders a one-color “neon vignette” and another of my specials: a one-minute “free-form singsong.” When I ask her for a mood or theme, she says “life changes,” and asks to sing along with me. “Major to minor, or minor to major?” I ask. She says she’ll follow my lead. I start humming a slow, dirgelike minor tune, then gradually quicken and brighten it, stomping my feet faster as the end of the minute approaches, and stopping by sustaining a high note. I think, “This is what a customer probably wants from a song.”


I try to wave another couple in; another walkaway.


Having made more “neon vignettes” than I will predictably sell, I begin to contemplate pocketing a few—which would make me THAT kind of employee. (“Whoops, we made one extra pizza. Can I just take it home to my roommate?”) I resist the impulse to pocket any of my creations; Michael can sell them later.


The gallery curator (and one of my favorite contemp-art philosophers) Gabe Flores swings by. I hate to say it, but I tell him I don’t think anyone else is coming. He says Place gets the least traffic of the three Pioneer Square Mall galleries.

“At the other galleries, they know what they’re supposed to do,” he says. They stand in front of each piece of artwork almost silently counting, ‘one alligator, two alligator, three alligator,’ then they move to the next. Here, it’s so spacious and so undefined, and they have to walk into emptiness. Most people are terrified to navigate emptiness.”

Another key truth? Most artists are permanently changed when they’re called upon to become customer servants. The first time you’re asked to be lightning fast and totally selfless, it comes as a shock to your artistic mind. The idea that your own pace may be too slow, your own opinion irrelevant, becomes an insidious sub-script that undermines the very spirit of artistic expression. If you adapt too well, all your processes may be shrunk into a perfunctory shorthand to avoid boring or burdening your customer with too many details. Where art is often about questions, service is always about answers. Behind a counter, you create quick solutions almost before problems arise—and the next thing you know, you’re not painting any more; you’re just laminating post-its.


By the time Gabe and I stop gabbing, we’ve covered a lot of theoretical ground and I’ve started cleaning up my workstation. Now there are no more wanderers to try to wave in, and Phillip is also getting ready to close. I total up: 1 $2 poem, 1 $1 piece of fine art, 1 $1 song performance. $4 total. “But your work today was priceless!” Phillip exclaims. That must be his artistic side talking.



Place Gallery dabbles in wish fulfillment

Drawings on demand, hypnotic handling of common objects, and birthday candle blowouts.

Last Saturday at Place Gallery‘s latest interactive, irreverent opening, an exhibiting artist “kissed up” to the gallery curator—literally. Artist Michael Reinsch accepted three dollars from curator Gabe Flores, then, to the delighted shock of onlookers, the two engaged in this three-minute makeout session:

Having already clinched a spot at Place, what compelled Reinsch into this act of proto-prostitution that one onlooker described as “a puppy licking a rubber doll?” Trading small bills for small favors is a facet of the artist’s exhibit, and plays into the gallery’s current thematic exploration: the psychology of—and the fine distinctions between—wish, desire, and instant-versus-delayed gratification.

Worth a visit in its own right, this month’s installation is consistent with Place’s overarching oeuvre: “social practice” that avoids being preachy, and evades the pitfall of simply fetishizing the ordinary through polished presentation and next-level novelty.

Michael Reinsch’s “On Demand” juxtaposes artistry with Starbuck’s service model.

This artist and part-time PNCA prof supplements his income pulling shifts at Starbuck’s, and brings that service model back to the gallery for further examination. Dressed in an aquamarine polo shirt and perched behind a color-coordinated sales counter, Reinsch plays the role of a short-order server, inviting visitors to pick his artistic services from an overhead menu that offers paintings, poems, and more in “small,” “medium,” and “large” sizes or at a dollar-per-minute price. Conspicuously missing from the menu are the kisses; they were an opening-night special. Regardless of whether Reinsch’s made-to-order creations end up slaking his customer’s cravings, his premise blows open a conversation about art’s reluctant-but-inevitable relationship to customer service.

Adrienne Huckabone’s “HD Sensations” creates cravings for everyday pleasures.

In a cordoned-off corner on a silent looped projection, we watch dainty hands with gum-pink nails stroke a pelt of fur, pour a can of San Pelligrino over ice cubes in a glass, pop a sheet of plastic bubble-wrap, et cetera. A white background with pale gray shadows offsets each object in turn, forcing the viewer’s focus and interest to rivet upon them. This ploy (however obvious) creates a faint, hypnotized longing to experience firsthand the stimuli being shown. Meant to depict “pleasures derived from everyday life” through a hyper-sensory lens, Huckabone’s exhibit also demonstrates a subtler truth: context is a bigger influencer of desire than mere object. To put it more simply, we don’t want things for what they are, but for the way they appear in a given moment.

Katherine Groesbeck’s “Wish Making & Practicalities” gives gallery-goers a birthday blowout.

The ceiling is festooned with white balloons, the floor carpeted, county-fair-style, in hay, and the walls are painted in broad, clean verticle stripes of white and mint green. Two pedestals present pale pink birthday cakes, each with a hot pink candle pressed into the center. The artist’s intention: make a wish. Last Saturday, many visitors did just that, as evidenced by piles of burnt-down candle nubs and used matches. Once you make a wish, curator Gabe Flores instructed, you write it down on a slip of paper and put it in a communal collection can. When the exhibit closes, the artist has promised to send all the wishes “on a magical journey.”

This tableau seems reminiscent of whimsical social-practice acts from TBA Fests past (kids giving haircuts, a man lighting taper candles all over his body) or even certain interactive exhibits at Burningman. The phase where the wishes travel brings to mind Tiffany Lee Brown’s Easter Island project, in which Brown personally transported various participants’ handmade curios she dubbed “seeds” to the mysterious island as a pseudo-pagan luck offering on behalf of their makers. Precedents notwithstanding, it’s fun to make a wish, and—however irrationally—the act pricks even the coldest cynic’s hope.

“Help Wanted”: The reviewer gets recruited to work a shift.

Spotting a “Help Wanted” sign on the corner of Reinsch’s counter on my way out, I called his bluff and was repaid in kind. Without batting an eye, Reinsch presented a multi-page boiler-plate application for me to fill out, then hired me on the spot! I will train on Friday and man the “On Demand” exhibit on Saturday afternoon from 2-6pm, making art to order while you wait. If you like, come test my improvisation and crafting skills—or simply stay tuned to ArtsWatch for my findings. Your wish is my command.

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