ArtsWatch Weekly: Craft museum shutdown stirs up the art world

The huge art news of the past week is that Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft is about to be shuttered. The rumblings are sounding across the country: the announcement has stirred up strong responses from the American craft and museum worlds, baring once again long-simmering disagreements over what “craft” and “art” mean, and how they do or don’t overlap.

As Barry Johnson reported when he broke the story on Oregon ArtsWatch, the museum space in Northwest Portland will be shut down and sold, and some of the museum’s programs will be folded into a new Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at the nearby Pacific Northwest College of Art, MoCC’s parent institution. PNCA had taken over the museum in 2009, providing a lifeline when the craft museum was sinking in debt. As Barry reported in his first story and a followup based on interviews with the art school’s interim president and exhibitions director, the museum continued to drain money despite hopes that it could become self-sustaining. And it was never fully integrated into the college’s programs.

Installation shot from "Alien She," which closed in January at MoCC: In foreground: Ladies Sasquatch (2006-2010). Photo courtesy of Allyson Mitchell and Katharine Mulherin Gallery, Toronto.

Installation shot from “Alien She,” which closed in January at MoCC: In foreground: Ladies Sasquatch (2006-2010). Photo courtesy of Allyson Mitchell and Katharine Mulherin Gallery, Toronto.

Responses have been swift, including these ones:

Sarah Archer, writing in Hyperallergic under the headline Why the Closing of the Museum of Contemporary Craft Is a Major Loss: “The idea that the new Center for Contemporary Art & Culture will show ‘not only craft, but craft, art, design, and show that these are actually all interrelated and that they actually feed off one another’ strains credulity, because the ideal model for that kind of programming just happens to be the Museum that they’re about to close. … Is [the museum] amateur or professional? Is it about finished objects or watching people make things? Is it sculpture or a useful object? The MoCC, like many contemporary craft organizations today, answered yes, yes, and yes.”

Perry A. Price, writing for the American Craft Council under the headline What the Closing of the MoCC Tells Us: “This unfortunate closure encapsulates the challenging forces at play in the field of contemporary craft. … Rail as we might against the decision of the college, it must be acknowledged that the financial difficulties of the museum that led to oversight by the college and ultimate closure also face numerous small arts institutions and organizations nationwide. … More ominous is the seeming disregard by the college of the mission of the museum and the work it interprets.”

Jeff Jahn, writing with his customary collegiality for Port under the headline Thoughts on Museum of Contemporary Craft Dissolution: “This may not be the final chapter but if it is the issue has lingered unnaturally long. … The biggest question is who or what is the best custodian of the MoCC’s legacy? Surely existing in some form is better than nothing but in this time of real estate prosperity it also seems like this is not the ideal situation, maybe a spinoff of this merger could happen? … otherwise this is far from the worst scenario.”

Daniel Duford, writing on his blog The Whole Live Animal under the headline The Ignominious Closing of Museum of Contemporary Craft: “Further there is the erasing of the word ‘craft’. Many who imagine themselves progressives and stalwarts of the contemporary think of craft as some limited, regional and bygone category. … The cycle of life, the daily excursions and celebrations of a human body exist in the objects in the permanent collection at MoCC. They can be deeply unfashionable. The responsibility of an institution housing a museum is to protect the objects and history from the vagaries of a vain and fickle fashion. PNCA has failed spectacularly in its role as a steward. There are objects in that collection that don’t immediately seem important. I am reminded of a Glen Lukens bowl. Small, crackled, uncool. Lukens was an important west coast teacher and the bowl has a quiet power. It has a lot to tell us if we only close our mouths and listen.”

Museum of Contemporary Craft from streetsdide.

Museum of Contemporary Craft from streetsdide.

Duford’s anger at the college’s board and management might be misplaced, but his concern for the museum’s collection is not. We hope that the interests of the public don’t get lost in the shuffle, and a great deal of that public interest is easy access to the collection. As Johnson reports, it doesn’t have a huge financial value – something on the order of $1.2 million, or less than any number of single paintings in the Portland Art Museum collections. But a whole history is here, and it’s important: works ranging from Lydia Herrick Hodge to Peter Voulkos, Betty Feves, Tom Hardy, Ken Shores, Robert Arneson, Leroy Setziol, Jo Apodaca, Laurie Herrick, Sam Maloof, Ronna Neuenschwander, Frank Boyden, Toshiku Takaezu, Linda Hutchins, Patrick Horsley, Hildur Bjarnadóttir, and many others. Is PNCA the best place for these works? PAM? Someplace else?

There will be lots to add to this story as it unfolds. Stay tuned.



Bobby Bermea in "The Set-Up" for Cygnet. Photo: Owen Carey

Bobby Bermea in “The Set-Up” for Cygnet. Photo: Owen Carey

A few highlights from this week’s very busy calendar:

The Set-Up. Cygnet Productions takes over the Shaking the Tree space with this adaptation of the 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, who also wrote The Wild Party. It was also made into a 1949 movie starring Robert Ryan as the boxer who doesn’t know he’s supposed to take a dive, but Cygnet returns to the original, in which the underdog hero, Pansy Jones, is a black man. Bobby Bermea leads a promising cast that also includes Don Alder, Hank Cartwright, Ted Schultz, Jamie Rea, and others. Opens Friday, through March 5.

Portland International Film Festival. The 39th annual version of this globe-trotting film frenzy opens Thursday, offering everything from world-view documentaries to made-in-Oregon shorts to an early look at commercial foreign films that’ll be showing up in months to come – or not showing up in Portland, which makes the festival perhaps your only chance to see some outstanding world cinema. Almost 100 feature films, more than 60 shorts, three dozen countries. Marc Mohan highlights ArtsWatch’s 10 most anticipated movies from the festival. Through Feb. 27.

Mothers and Sons. Michael Mendelson and JoAnn Johnson lead the cast in the always fascinating Terrence McNally’s 2014 play about a woman who visits her dead son’s former lover after a 20-year silence. Artists Rep. Opens Saturday, though March 6.

Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble. Longtime partners Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk, core members of BodyVox, bring their own ensemble back for its annual run at BodyVox. The family resemblance is there, but Skinner/Kirk always has its own way own way of doing things. Opens Thursday, through Feb. 20.

Each and Every Thing. Monologist Dan Hoyle, son of the fabled American new-vaudeville clown Geoff Hoyle, brings his act to Portland Center Stage’s intimate Ellen Bye Studio, which he’ll share with Dael Orlandersmith’s just-opened solo show Forever. Hoyle’s solo play takes him and the audience from small-town Nebraska to Calcutta, with a lot of other stops on his search for community in a digital age. Opens Friday, through March 27.

Love’s Fire. Readers Theatre Rep, the little company that does short and very affordable monthly shows at Blackfish Gallery, goes all Valentine-y this month with short plays based on Shakespeare’s sonnets by Eric Bogosian (Bitter Sauce) and Tony Kushner (Terminating, or Lass Meine Schmerzen Nicht Verloren Sein, or Ambivalence). It’s not true that Kushner’s title is longer than his play.

Conduit Gathering and Toast. The contemporary dance center, which wandered for a while in the Portland wilderness after losing its longtime downtown home, has found new permanent space on the East Side, in the Ford Building at 2505 S.E. 11th Avenue. From 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Conduit will host a community gathering to talk about the future and show off its new digs.

Contigo Pan y Cebolla. Milagro’s Spanish-language plays, presented with English supertitles, are usually well worth catching whether English or Spanish is your first language. Spanish speakers, get a rare opportunity to see a play in their native language. And English speakers get a chance to hear the words in their native tongue, with their original rhythms and inflections. Héctor Quintero Viero’s comedy, subtitled in English Through Thick and Thin Forever!, is set in 1950s Havana, not long before the Cuban revolution. Opens Friday, through March 5.

Contigo Pan y Cebolla at Milagro. Photo: Russell J Young

Contigo Pan y Cebolla at Milagro. Photo: Russell J Young




ArtsWatch links


Scene from French animated feature “April and the Extraordinary World.”

Scene from French animated feature “April and the Extraordinary World.”

This ain’t Paris, Texas: My rendezvous with French cinema. Marc Mohan dashed off to Paris to catch some French films, and found a film culture that was as exciting as ever.

Dave Anderson remembered. The Oregonian’s Kristi Turnquist pays tribute to Dave Anderson, the television (KATU’s A.M. Northwest) and radio (KPAM-AM’s Mark and Dave Show) personality and pillar of the Northwest comedy scene, who died at 55 of cancer.

Musica Maestrale: Brilliance amid the darkness. Bruce and Daryle Browne find magic in the Franch Baroque sounds of Francois Couperin and their modern interpretation by the choir Musica Maestrale.

Forever: swift wrinkles in time. Dale Orlandersmith’s solo memory play at Portland Center Stage, I write, is a “harrowing adventure guided by a truthful yet gentle hand.”

Mr. Kolpert: O to be young and alienated. Third Rail’s new show, Barry Johnson writes, is “a smart, deliciously evil production” of a tech-bubble play from the late 1990s that already feels like a period piece.

I Should Have a Party for All the Thoughts I Didn’t Say: elusive ceremonies. Brett Campbell finds a certain enchantment in Source Material Collective’s dream-play set at a memorial service: “Much remains mysterious, but unlike so many other superficially similar abstract theater performances, this one didn’t feel under-thought, over-long or insufficiently realized.”

The Call: waiting, fretting, hoping. Profile kicks off its season of Tanya Barfield plays with a comedy-drama about race and adoption. I write: “In the end, it’s difficult not to wish everyone well, because whatever their flaws (and there are plenty) everyone means well, which in these days of fiercely fractious cultural and political divisions seems humane and civilized and a blessed relief.”

Eugene Ballet: Interactive dialogue of vibrating frequencies. Gary Ferrington takes a close look at White Noise, Amy Seiwert’s collaborative dance and interactive media performance, coming Friday and Saturday in Eugene.

Face to Face: K.B. Dixon’s lens on Oregon artists. Dixon’s new show at Michael Parsons Fine Art features portraits of some of Oregon’s most prominent artists: “Walk with photographer K.B. Dixon into the studios and homes of the thirty-two Oregon artists in Face to Face and it’s as if you’re walking into industrial zones. Which, of course, you are. These are working spaces, and working faces.”

Lucinda Parker, from "Face to Face." Photo: K.B. Dixon

Lucinda Parker, from “Face to Face.” Photo: K.B. Dixon



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