A few questions concerning Portland2012 Biennial

image via Disjecta


Will it have mattered?

Will an artist who is included in the Biennial receive an invitation to show in Istanbul or Berlin or Mexico City? Will an artist who is included in the Biennial be more likely to gain representation by a good Portland gallery? A New York gallery? Will an artist who is included in the Biennial be more likely to be awarded a Bonnie Bronson Fellowship or a Hallie Ford Fellowship? A Guggenheim? Will an artist included in the Biennial be more likely to be included in the other Biennial, the one that starts with a W? Will an artist be more likely to find collectors? Will collectors be impressed by her inclusion in the Biennial? What if the imprimatur is invisible? What if the golden ticket when presented elicits the response, “Portland, what?”

How many of the artists have dealers? Of major Portland galleries is there an equal number of represented artists in the Biennial or is that only a curatorial concern of major arts institutions that turn to those dealers’ collectors as patrons? Will a dealer be more able to sell work by an artist who has been curated into the Biennial?

What if it is raining? What if it has been raining for a very long time? What if the Biennial is only for people who have cars? What if more isn’t better? What if it is? What if bigger isn’t better? If you don’t show up, will everyone assume it’s sour grapes? Does anyone know you applied? Did you get a studio visit? Does the curator not “get” your work? Is it a crap shoot? Does it matter?


image via Disjecta


What if Sean Joseph Patrick Carney curated the Portland Biennial? What if Stephanie Snyder curated it? Mack McFarland? Kristan Kennedy? What about Jeanine Jablonski or Jane Beebe? What if the curator has not been closely following what’s happening in Portland art? How does that shape selection? What if she has? What if she knows everyone? Or what if she has her People? What if she champions the artists she knows? What if she resists that urge?

What is the mission of the Biennial? What is a survey? What are the criteria of inclusion? What is worthy? Does work on the wall matter more than the C.V.? Would a jury rather than a single curator get any closer to objectivity? In other words, does averaging increase objectivity or mediocrity? What if a curator made a radical statement with the Biennial? What if she took a risk? What if she made rules? What if she only looked at work that she could situate in an international contemporary context? What if she ignored what she saw on the PADA gallery walls and imagined she was curating Documenta, not for scale, but for contemporaneity? What is contemporary? Perhaps it is better to ask does this work feel like 2012?

Were there a lot of academics in the Biennial? Did the work reflect that? Does working in academia make it more likely that one will be included in the Biennial? Does the number of academics included in the Biennial say something about how one makes a living as an artist in Portland?


image via Disjecta


If you make it bigger, is it better? Is nothing surprising? Is nothing shocking? Does anything in the Biennial make me think about art in a new way? Does anything in the Biennial make me think about anything in a new way? Does art ever do that to me?

Does the work in the Biennial address concerns beyond art or is it folded in upon itself. Does it address non-trivial concerns? Does it do it well? Does it matter? Is it pretty? Is that enough?

How does this Biennial compare with the Portland2010 Biennial? How does it compare with the Oregon Biennials that Portland Art Museum organized? How does it compare with the Northwest Biennial in Tacoma.


image via Disjecta

Did you lie down in that thing? Did you stick your head in that thing? Did you drive out to that thing so you could talk to that artist? How long did you stand in front of the naked beeswax guy? Was it disturbing that it smelled so good? Did you read all that stuff? Did you watch the whole thing? Did you like that one thing inside the door to the right the best? Did you still love that work you’d already seen? Were you introduced to work by any artists you didn’t already know? Was it compelling? Do you ever think about the word compelling when you are trying to think about why some work matters? Is there a better word? When you looked at the work, did you play the context game, the art historical game, the who’s who game?

Did any of the artists who have shown at Appendix Project Space apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of the women artists whose work was included in the recent Interior Margins exhibition at the Lumber Room apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of the artists who attended or taught any session of C.O.P.S. apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of the artists who participate in DUMP.FM apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of the artists who have ever shown or performed at Ditch Projects, Rocksbox Fine Art, 12128 Boat Space, or the late great Car Hole apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of these artists go to see the Biennial? What do they say when they talk amongst themselves about the Biennial?

(Inspired by a short story by Donald Barthelme.)

8 Responses.

  1. It doesn’t really matter what the answer to these questions are in the end they are all the same question. You just have to do your art, show it and do some more.
    Poignant and eloquent article.

  2. scott says:

    To many questions… How do you feel about what you are looking at?

  3. Lisa Radon says:

    There are never enough questions.

  4. Lisa Martel says:

    a review that asks questions and makes you think – how refreshing – nice to read a review that doesn’t have all the answers
    thank you ms. radon

    ps. Did I wish I’d spent some time at all the venues and seen all the work this year?


  5. Mary says:

    A fascinating, yet empty review. I can’t tell if the author is upset, ignorant or being confrontational without really taking a stance or digging deeper into the topic. The questions indicate some sort of issues or “what ifs” about the Portland Biennial, but does not provide context, especially cause or direction (not necessarily solutions, which might be limiting, but something along the lines offering a stance that is forward thinking). It doesn’t make me think more critically about the relationship between the Portland Biennial, Portland artists, art and the rest of the world, but only question the author’s biases.

    Questions are definitely necessary for fostering conversation about culture in today’s society, but this article doesn’t seem to bring about a dynamic online discussion –just likes and friendly appraisals. Although, hopefully Portlanders are chattering about the Portland Biennial in a more critical/analytical way in the art galleries, museums, and the myriad of other places where people and culture intersect.

    • Mary says:

      p.s. Ignorant is too harsh and not the right term. Perhaps oblivious or myopic better capture the sentiment that I felt came across in the commentary.

  6. marchi says:

    so good I had to tweet it and end my voyeuristic participation with twitter.

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