High Desert Museum Creations of Spirit Bend Oregon

News & Notes: Victoria Frey departs PICA

Plus: Blackfish Gallery's big moving sale, remembering cartoonists Sempé and Booth, what's next for Portland's elk fountain and statue.


Victoria Frey: retiring as executive director of PICA. Photo: Gia Goodrich

Victoria Frey, executive director of the innovative Portland Institute for Contemporary Art since 2004, is leaving the organization she’s been with since its founding in 1995. “I am immensely proud of this organization and thankful for my time here,” she said in a statement from PICA. “I am grateful to all of you who have openly, enthusiastically, and generously been part of this amazing journey.”

PICA without Frey seems a bit like Ben without Jerry. She’s been a constant through years of change, beginning as the board’s founding secretary/treasurer when founding artistic leader Kristy Edmunds was the face of a new organization that shook up the city’s arts scene, bringing contemporary and often experimental performing and visual artists to town from the larger national and international scenes. Frey has guided PICA and its spotlight annual TBA (time-based art) Festival through many changes and innovations, including shepherding the organization through a pandemic and establishing a home base in close-in Northeast Portland.

Frey came to PICA with her own credentials as an innovator. For several years she had owned and operated Quartersaw Gallery, a pioneering gallery in a part of Portland that was in the process of transforming itself from a low-rent warehouse and small business neighborhood into the cultural and economic hub known as the Pearl District.

“My transition is the beginning of yet another phase of PICA,” Frey continued in the organization’s statement. “As an internationally respected organization with an enormous impact on artists, our community, and the field, and a stellar leadership team, PICA will lead us into an inspiring new future.”

PICA is actively seeking a new executive director.

Blackfish Gallery’s new home and big sale

Blackfish Gallery is having a big pre-moving sale Nov. 3-5. Photo courtesy Blackfish Gallery.

Blackfish Gallery, another pioneer in the Pearl District, is moving – and from Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 3-5, it’s having a big moving sale at its longtime location, 420 N.W. Ninth Ave., before shutting down for most of the month and then reopening Nov. 29 in its nearby new space at 938 N.W. Everett St. The moving sale is a benefit to support remodeling at the new gallery space, and, the gallery says, is “first-come-first-be-amazed and also pay what you can for most pieces,” with a few works being sold via silent auction.

In addition to being one of Portland’s older galleries (it opened in 1979) Blackfish is one of the city’s pioneering artist-operated galleries, a collaborative that has included many distinguished artists among the 150 or so who have been members over the years.

A farewell to Sempé and Booth

Here at ArtsWatch we’re big fans of the cartooning arts, a form of illustration that at its best combines great drawing skill with a sharp comic sense and trenchant cultural commentary. A great cartoon can tickle or sting, or both.

And so it’s with sadness at their passings and deep appreciation for their talents that we note the deaths of two masters of the form, both of whom lived long and full lives and brightened the pages of The New Yorker magazine for many decades. The French illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé, who died Aug. 11 a week shy of his 90th birthday, created more than a hundred whimsical cover drawings for The New Yorker beginning in 1978.

The great single-panel cartoonist George Booth, whose witty portraits of dogs and people and everyday New York life were highlights of the magazine for more than 50 years, died Nov. 1, at 96. Both Sempé and Booth remained productive to the end.

That leaves the terrific Roz Chast, who not so long ago seemed a wonderful enfant terrible but seems to have reached the astonishing age of 67, as the reigning visual humorist at the magazine that has done perhaps more than any other American publication to preserve and advance this subversive and accessible art form.

Meanwhile, the website Literary Hub has published a good appreciation by Lynn Caponera of the late, great, writer/illustrator Maurice Sendak and his world of amazing animals, monsters, and little people poking their fingers ever so audaciously in society’s eye. Dance fans may recall his wonderful, “Wild Things”-inspired designs for “The Nutcracker” that distinguished Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual production for many years. (And thanks to Portland writer Whitney Otto, author of How to Make an American Quilt, Art for the Ladylike, and other books, for bringing Caponera’s piece to our attention.)

The latest on Portland’s Elk Fountain

The beloved Thompson Elk Statue and Fountain, which has been missing from its historic downtown location since being damaged during Portland’s social protests in 2020, appears to be heading back home: Its restoration will be the subject of a public meeting of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission on Nov. 7. Veteran journalist Fred Leeson has a good update on his architecture website Building On History, in which he talks with Randy Gragg, executive director of the Portland Parks Foundation, which is raising money to help buy the necessary granite for repairs to the foundation and put the sculpture back in place.

“Ultimately,” Leeson notes, “the Portland City Council will decide on replacing the fountain and to what extent street changes will occur. The council in May resolved unanimously to restore the elk and fountain, but budgetary consequences were not known at that time.”

High Desert Museum Creations of Spirit Bend Oregon

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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