Bob Hicks


Museums set sail for Reopenland

ArtsWatch Weekly: The doors swing open, carefully. Plus: Black & white in America, "new normal" in the wayback machine; follow the money.

WHILE MUCH OF OREGON’S CULTURAL WORLD REMAINS FROZEN IN LOCKDOWN, the ice is beginning to thaw in the river of art. A lot of commercial galleries have been open by appointment for some time. Now Portland’s three biggest museums are also reopening their doors for visitors:

  • OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, is open already, complete with its under-the-skin exhibit Body Worlds & the Cycle of Life, although many of its popular interactive attractions are under strict control.
  • The Oregon Historical Society Museum reopens Saturday, July 11, with several attractions including the exhibition Nevertheless, They Persisted: Women’s Voting Rights and the 19th Amendment. 
  • Across the Park Block from the history center, the Portland Art Museum swings open its doors again on Thursday, July 16, with several exhibitions including its big Volcano! celebration of Mount St. Helens forty years after its explosion and its Robert Colescott retrospective Art and Race Matters. The museum will welcome visitors with free admission the first four days of its reopening.
When the Portland Art Museum reopens on July 16, so will the special exhibition “Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott.” Pictured: “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook,” 1975, Acrylic on Canvas, 84 x 108 inches. © Estate of Robert Colescott / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Estate and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Photo: Jean Paul Torno


Fighting the one-two punch

ArtsWatch Weekly: Amid twin crises, arts and social awareness mix and meld and come together

IT’S BEEN A WEEK TO PICK OURSELVES UP, DUST OURSELVES OFF, START ALL OVER AGAIN: The one-two punch of pandemic and racial injustice has kept the culture on the ropes even as some of the contenders take a premature victory lap. The United States has solidified its dubious distinction as the epicenter of the global coronavirus crisis: Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in the face of a rudderless national response is the closest thing we have to a national leader on the issue, warns that if Americans don’t get serious about the threat we could be facing 100,000 new cases a day. While the nation gradually and sometimes not so gradually reopens, the numbers of infections and deaths have spiked. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown has ordered that people wear masks in indoor public settings in every county, a directive that many, even those assigned to enforce the law, feel free to flout. 

The designer Milton Glaser’s final project. 

Culturally, in the past week the nation’s lost two towering figures. The great comedian Carl Reiner, who with the likes of Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks helped shape a stream of antic and sometimes subversively open American popular comedy, died at 98. And Milton Glaser, the graphic artist/designer/entrepreneur/American hybrid, died on his 91st birthday. Glaser’s touch was all over the culture, from book and album covers to concert posters to restaurant designs to the iconic “I (Heart) NY” logo that’s been copied by cities from here to the farther moons of Pluto, or so it sometimes seems. At the time of his death he was working on a new cultural connector to bridge the divides of troubled times: a distinctive image of the word “Together.”


Pajama music & tumbling statues

ArtsWatch Weekly: Cozying in at home with the pleasures of Chamber Music Northwest online; as statues fall, a bold new mural rises

I WENT TO THE OPENING NIGHT OF CHAMBER MUSIC NORTHWEST‘S SUMMER SEASON on Monday – in my pajamas, at my desk, on my computer screen. CMNW’s always had a relaxed dress code, for the audience, anyway, but this was taking things to extremes. Then again, we’re all taking things to extremes these days, reinventing wheels we thought had been spinning extremely well, thank you very much, except that then the rules changed, and here we are in Pandemic Land, playing a makeshift game and hoping for the best.

As makeshifts go, this one was quite good: three excellent performances by three fine quartets, with good sound quality and some brief chats interspersed with the music. It wasn’t the same as sitting in the concert hall, yet an undeniable excitement came across the electrical surge of what we used to call the Information Superhighway – a sense of triumph that, against daunting odds, this thing was working. While many other performing groups were shut down and worrying about their futures, for CMNW the show was going on. As of noon Tuesday, with 12 hours still to go before the opening concert was taken down, close to 2,200 people from Oregon and around the world had tuned in to see and hear.

Chamber Music Northwest and I have been on friendly terms for more than forty of its fifty years. We go back to the early days, when the violinist Sergiu Luca was still running the show, and concerts were in a large non-air-conditioned indoor commons on the Reed College campus, where on a high-humidity summer evening much of the audience sat cross-legged on the floor and the musicians might be accompanied by a fluttering undertone of flapping programs fanning up a breeze. A cozy conviviality ruled, and a sometimes fragile separation between performers and audience. Sweltering room or not, right there was where we wanted to be, listening to great music performed by people who knew how to perform it well. It was our Paradise of the moment. 

Clarinetist and retiring artistic director David Shifrin and Guarneri Quartet cellist Peter Wiley in Monday’s season-opening stream of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet in B Minor. CMNW photo


Montage, farewell. It’s been swell.

A Portland legend of late-night dining swagger and the occasional lunch serves its last gator bite. A sweet goodbye to a joint supreme.

It was called, officially, Le Bistro Montage, although for decades most Portlanders have called it just Montage. And I write “was” because, as several news sources have reported today, as of today it is no longer. Lizzie Acker has a few details on The Oregonian/Oregon Live.

Montage, a sort-of Cajun joint tucked in a delicately fading old brick building below the east side of the Morrison Bridge, was one of those Portland places, a legend in the perpetual making, a place for hipsters and anti-hipsters and your country cousins in to see the town; a time-bending passageway from Old Portland to New. Late at night it howled, and when you went there it was often for two seemingly contradictory reasons: because it was familiar and comfortable and you knew what to expect; and because chances were better than fair something totally unanticipated might explode.

It also, for a while, served weekday lunches, and those days happened to coincide with the time that I was doing a stretch at The Oregonian writing a column called Day Time Diner, in which I explored the highs and lows of morning and midday dining in Portland, sometimes at high-end places but with the column’s affections definitely teetering toward the wayward attractions of the homely joint. Homely Montage was not, although its decorative brilliance was hardly of the Architectural Digest sort. A joint it definitely was – one of the city’s best, and one whose loss many people, old and young, are going to mourn.

Here, then, is my Day Shift Diner ode to the vagrant pleasures of Montage, as it ran in The Oregonian on May 5, 2006. Merci, Montage. May a jazz band march you to your grave.


DAY SHIFT DINER: Montage’s down-and-dandy lunch

On the third visit I broke down and ordered the fried Spam sandwich.

Surprisingly, it was pretty good: sliced thin and cooked crisp, a poor-man’s BLT cushioned by blankets of lettuce, red onion and tomato between pieces of toast.

More surprising still, I was sitting at the ancient gnarled counter of Le Bistro Montage in the naked light of day, which is a little like basking in the sun with the Vampire Lestat.

Le Bistro Montage, from the outside, tucked beside the pilings of the Morrison Bridge. Photo: Visitor7, July 27, 2013, via Wikimedia Commons


The arts: After the deluge, what?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Planning for a post-Covid Oregon cultural scene; pancakes and the art of dissent; good things come in multiples

AS OREGON HESITANTLY REEMERGES FROM ITS LONG COCOONING – baby steps, everyone: take it cautiously, and wear your masks – it’s not too early to think about what the “new normal” might look like for the state’s arts and cultural organizations. A couple of highly respected onlookers have been considering the changed landscape long and deep, and while they disagree on some fundamental issues, on one thing they’re in accord: It’s highly unlikely that enough money will be available to support everyone in the manner to which they’d like to be accustomed.

What to do, then, when financial push comes to shove?

Fear No Music playing music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at The Old Church Concert Hall: Will the future of arts in Oregon by small and adaptable? Photo © John Rudoff/2017


Art on the move: responding to crises

ArtsWatch Weekly: The Black Lives Matter movement and the continuing coronavirus challenge are reshaping the arts world

WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF LIFE-CHANGING TIMES, and in the face of multiple crises remarkable work is being done. How do artists fit in? Sometimes, smack in the middle of things. Many news organizations have been doing excellent work of discovering the artists speaking to the moment and bringing their work to a broad audience. Oregon Public Broadcasting, for instance, has been publishing some sterling stories – including the feature The Faces of Protest: The Memorial Portraits of Artist Ameya Marie Okamoto, by Claudia Meza and John Nottariani. Okamoto, a young social practice artist who grew up in Portland, has made it her work not just to document the events of racial violence in Portland and across the United States: She’s also, as OPB notes, “crafted dozens of portraits for victims of violence and injustice.” 

Ameya Okamoto, “In Support of Protest.” Photo courtesy Ameya Okamoto

“People get so attached to the hashtag and the movement of George Floyd or Quanice Hayes,” Okamota tells OPB, “they forget that George Floyd was a trucker who moved to Minneapolis for a better life, or that Quanice Hayes was actually called ‘Moose’ by his friends and family. When individuals become catalysts for Black Lives Matter and catalysts for social change … there is a level of complex personhood that is stripped away from them.” In her work she strives to give that back.


Update: PAMTA musical theater awards postponed

Theater curtains closed? No problem. On Sunday night, Portland's annual musical-theater awards celebration takes the show to YouTube.

UPDATE: The PAMTA awards ceremony has been postponed indefinitely to not conflict with Black Lives Matter protests, producer Corey Brunish announced Wednesday. No new date has been set. “The PAMTAS fully supports the movement towards BIPOC equality and out of respect we have elected to postpone our annual celebration of the arts,” Brunish said.


You can keep ’em out of the theater for a few months, but you can’t keep a good song and dance down. This year’s PAMTAs – the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards – will stream live on YouTube at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 14. (The YouTube link will be posted later on the PAMTA link above: Keep checking.) Musical theater people know how to have a good time, and the PAMTA celebration, generally a dress-up, strut-your-stuff, hoot-and-holler showcase that’s one of the best public theater parties of the year, has been forced online because of pandemic restrictions: It should be fun to see how the song & dance make the transition from stage to screen.

A double lineup of PAMTA trophies, waiting to be engraved and awarded.

This year’s awards, produced by three-time Tony Award winning producer and longtime Oregon resident Corey Brunish and covering the 2019-2020 season, are the thirteenth annual ceremony celebrating the best of musical theater in Portland area theaters.

Nominees were announced Monday, and are listed below. Seven shows are in the running for outstanding production: Once, Into the Woods, and Footloose, each from Broadway Rose Theatre Company; West Side Story and Mama Mia, both from Stumptown Stages; Newsies, from Journey; and The Rocky Horror Show, from Lakewood Theatre Company. In addition, two productions are nominated for outstanding original show: Broadway Rose’s It Happened One Christmas, and Triangle Productions’ That’s No Lady, the bio-musical about the legendary Portland drag performer and club owner Darcelle.

Among other interesting tidbits on the nominee list: The musical-theater adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda drew nominations for productions at two companies – Lakewood Theatre and Northwest Children’s Theater & School. And Brian Karl Moen scooped up four of the eight nominations for outstanding sound design, giving him at least a chance to win, place, and show.

The nominees: