News & Notes catches its breath

Additional notes on Francis Bacon, the Oregon Secretary of the Arts, and The Nutcracker

Today, barring the unforeseen (which we have a hard time barring), we’ll take a breather and catch-up on some of the developments of the past few days. Crazy, even for Christmas.

For example, Portland’s holiday surprise opens on Saturday, but the news came yesterday: Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” the $147 million triptych that touched off endless columns about the depravity of the art market, will be shown at the Portland Art Museum. This combination of art and money led Bob Hicks to write, “In other words: Portland museumgoers are about to see not just a landmark of 20th century art, they’re also going to get to gawk at a trophy of the New World Order.”

Here at ArtsWatch, you can read the basic account or jump straight into Mr. Hicks’ deeper meditation. And we’ll be engaging with the paintings themselves soon enough.

The unanswered questions are the name of the owner and why that owner decided to show the painting here. The New York Times speculated that it might be Paul Allen because the Allen Foundation gave the museum a three-year grant to fund special exhibitions, but chief curator Bruce Guenther denied that. He did say that it was someone who lived on the West Coast, however. And Judith H. Dobrzynski on her Real Clear Arts blog mentioned Eli Broad, though goodness knows he has access to lots of potential exhibition spaces in LA, and why wouldn’t he save it for the opening of his own museum next year?

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What’s gnarlier than Bacon’s portraits of his old pal Lucien Freud? How about the twisted flow chart of the executive director or the Oregon Arts Commission. (OK, yes: Or this particular segue…)

First, I took a look at the vectors of power bearing down on the commission’s director and the historical context that made the job practically impossible, for Christine D’Arcy, who was fired from it last month, or anyone else.

And then, I advanced a few ideas about how to create a new system that avoids the wacky structure, elevates the arts in both the legislature and the bureaucracy, and maybe then helps to change that historical context. I even invented a position: The Oregon Secretary of the Arts.

The rumbling I heard yesterday was that similar ideas are percolating down in Salem, even as I type, though as a practical matter the changes I talked about are going to take some time and heavy political lifting. I’ll be writing more as time goes by.

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Xuan Cheng as Dewdrop. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Xuan Cheng as Dewdrop. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

If you’re looking for a full-blown review of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s version of Balanchine’s “Nutcracker,” look no further. Martha Ullman West covered it for ArtsWatch, and I haven’t seen another version. West has tracked OBT’s holiday hit from the beginning of the company, and her account reflects both that long acquaintance and the far shorter one of her guest at the matinee.

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