Portland Biennial

Suereth and Disjecta part ways

The founder and executive director of the North Portland contemporary arts center will leave at the end of this year

More than 15 years after Bryan Suereth founded Disjecta, he and the North Portland contemporary arts center are parting ways. Suereth, who is executive director of the sprawling former bowling alley near the Kenton neighborhood’s iconic Paul Bunyan giant statue, will leave on Dec. 31.

“Sixteen years ago I never imagined this organization would be as vital to the cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest as it is today,” Suereth said in a prepared statement released Wednesday. “I’m extremely proud of the unique opportunities Disjecta provides to artists and patrons and of the incredible support we’ve received from this community.”

Suereth

Suereth

Neither Suereth nor the board gave a reason for his impending departure, and Suereth did not say what his plans might be.

“Bryan’s vision and energy as founder guided Disjecta successfully for over 15 years, and we are grateful for his service,” board chair Christine D’Arcy said in the same prepared release. “We are also confident and enthusiastic about Disjecta’s future.”

To many people in the contemporary arts scene, Suereth has been Disjecta’s face from its beginnings in an old Masonic Lodge on Northeast Russell Street. The move to Kenton in 2008 provided a much larger space in an out-of-the-way part of town that was beginning to revitalize. Disjecta became a key part of that rebirth. Known best for its contemporary art programming, the center has also hosted dance, theater, music, and other events. It’s also provided subsidized artist studios.

Inside the contemporary art center Disjecta.

Inside the contemporary art center Disjecta.

Disjecta and Suereth became known beyond Portland in 2003 when they assembled The Modern Zoo, at the time the largest-ever visual art exhibition in the Northwest. The center’s impact grew when it began to produce the Portland Biennial after the Portland Art Museum scrapped its long-running Oregon Biennial.

Disjecta took the idea and ran with it, giving it both more focus and a broader geographical reach. The center also instituted a curator-in-residence program, bringing in rising or well-known national curators to make the biennial choices with an outside eye. That usually has meant, among other things, visiting an extraordinary number of studios around the state. This year’s biennial was curated by Michelle Grabner, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and also was a co-curator of the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Grabner and Disjecta spread the 2016 biennial to sites in Portland and around the state, a decision that upset some art followers who discovered they couldn’t see the whole show in a single setting, but pleased and energized others who saw it as a smart way to create a genuinely regional event.

The executive director position will be filled on an interim basis while Disjecta conducts a national search for a new director. “We look forward to building upon a strong support base and the past successes attained under Bryan’s leadership, and look to accelerate our growth and further expand the reach and impact of Disjecta,” D’Arcy said in her statement.

ArtsWatch Weekly: bellying up to the barre

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

So a terrific dancer walks into a barre and decides to write down what she sees and feels and does. Six years after Gavin Larsen retired from Oregon Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer and mainstay of the company’s halcyon years, dance followers in Portland still marvel at the memory of her energy and grace onstage. She was “a superb, elegantly balanced, dramatically engaged dancer,” as I wrote about her 2009 performance in Josie Moseley’s Hold My Hand at Conduit.

You could pretty much say that about her writing, too: after all, writing is its own form of performance. Larsen has forged a new career as a writer and a teacher since leaving OBT, publishing in publications as diverse as Dance Magazine and The Threepenny Review. She’s contributed to Oregon ArtsWatch, too, training her perceptions on the role of ballet masters in the 20th century, the legacy of the late studio pianist Robert Huffman, and the path to stardom of Northwest Dance Project’s Ching Ching Wong, among other stories.

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Gavin Larsen at the barre: everyday ballerina. Photo: Ashby Baldock

Starting Sunday, Larsen’s writing for ArtsWatch will get more personal. That’s the day we’ll begin publishing Everyday Ballerina: The Shaping of a Dancer, a twelve-part daily series of reminiscences and turning points that pulls back the curtains and gives us inside glimpses of the challenges, uncertainties, and triumphs of the dancers’ life. Just a taste of the style you can look forward to, from Gavin’s recollections of performing in The Rite of Spring: “Some people sweat a lot more than others, and even those who are not heavy sweaters begin to pour and drip as soon as extreme exertion is finished and they are slowly, stealthily, creeping and crawling and oozing their way across the stage to become part of a huge, undulating, slimy mass of dancers twister-ing themselves into the towering pile of limbs we called the Human Monolith.”

Continues…

 
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