Linda Tesner

At PSU’s new museum, art for all

The new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the urban university gives Portland a new center for contemporary art. And it's free to everyone.

As you walk around the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University, the eyes have it. Staring out from the prints on the walls in the museum’s inaugural exhibition, Art for All, they leap across the space between art and visitor, intimate and visceral and commanding. When the new museum’s interim director, Linda Tesner, was shaping its first show she wanted to appeal to as broad a potential audience as possible, and decided to stress portraits: person to person, universal and immediate. What could be more democratic?

“Art for All” might well also be the new museum’s motto. When the newest Schnitzer-named university art museum – the third in the Pacific Northwest – opens its doors on Thursday at PSU, Portland will gain something that’s common across Europe but almost as rare as hen’s teeth in the United States: a free art museum. That’s free, no strings attached: free admission for any PSU student or staff member; free for anyone and everyone, from anywhere and everywhere, who wants to visit.

Left: Robert Colescott’s Haircut, 1989, oil on canvas, 84 x 72 inches. Right: David Shrobe’s Keeper of Secrets, 2018, oil, acrylic, graphite, paper, canvas, wood, fabric, metal, and vinyl. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

That fact alone distinguishes the new JSMA from most American museums. It tears down the stubborn economic wall that traditionally keeps lower-income people on the outside and turns museums into havens for the middle and upper classes. The costs of building, maintaining and exhibiting museum collections are high, and in the U.S., where government underwriting of cultural institutions is scant, that usually means high admission prices, too: standard admission to the much larger Portland Art Museum, for instance, is $20, an amount that doesn’t even begin to cover the costs of keeping its doors open.  

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The Week: TBA or not TBA?

As the contemporary arts festival surges onto an already bulging September calendar, that is the question.

A NEW CROP OF APPLES IS HITTING THE PRODUCE STANDS. Lush ripe tomatoes are overflowing gardens and markets. Cukes are ready for pickling. America’s schoolchildren, ready or not, are back in the saddle again. And today, for the 17th year, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual TBA Festival kicks off again. “TBA” stands for “Time-Based Art,” which mainly means performance – art that takes place in a set period of time, in front of an audience – although visual art’s part of the mix, too. And the time is very contemporary: the art of today, for good and sometimes ill. As PICA puts it, the festival, which runs in venues around Portland through Sept. 15, “gathers artists and audiences from around the world” for eleven days of “contemporary performance, music, visual art, film, workshops, lectures, food, drink, conversation, and celebration.” 

Eiko Otake. Photo courtesy Joseph Scheer, IEA at NYSCC, via PICA


Over the years TBA’s had a lot of hits and a lot of misses. Its emphasis on non-traditional and resolutely experimental work can elevate the narcissistic and the sloppy. It can also champion fresh art of astonishing provocation and beauty, as it did in the festival’s very first incarnation, on Sept. 11, 2003, when, on the second anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, the great butoh-influenced performers Eiko and Koma stunned their Portland audience with an outdoor performance in and around the water at Jamison Square, beneath a darkening sky. That performance, eloquently titled Offering, was sad, deep, ghostlike, hopeful, profound. “It strikes me, on this anniversary of death, that the world’s war-makers would detest this dance, which is about deep truths that can’t be glossed or managed,” I wrote at the time. “One watches an invisible flight of ideas. It is the holy and the profane, inseparable, wrapped into one. A mystery.”

The good news is that Eiko Otake is back at TBA for the first time since that 2003 performance, and she’ll be a busy part of things. You can see her tonight, at TBA’s opening reception, in her evolving piece A Body in Places, based on her return to post-nuclear disaster Fukushima. Prints and video works will also be on view through Oct. 24 at PNCA’s 511 Gallery. There’ll be a screening of her film A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life, on Sept. 9. She’ll perform her Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, with several collaborators, Sep. 12-14. And in a free event on Sept. 13, she’ll be in conversation with chroreographer Linda K. Johnson and PICA Artistic Director Kristan Kennedy.

 

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Breaking: Opera switches season again; Tesner heads PSU museum

The opera, facing financial woes, abandons its summer season and returns to fall-spring. PSU's new Schnitzer museum taps a proven leader.

Portland Opera will move back to a fall-through-spring season beginning with the 2020-21 season, the opera and the consulting company Metropolitan Group have announced. The decision calls quits to a short-lived move to a primarily summer season, and follows last month’s announcement that Christopher Mattaliano, general manager since 2003, would leave that post immediately and become an artistic consultant for the 2019-20 season. Sue Dixon, the company’s director of external affairs, became interim general manager.

Meanwhile, Portland State University has just announced that the highly respected Portland curator Linda Tesner will be interim director of the university’s new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art when it opens Nov. 7 in the refurbished former Neuberger Hall on PSU’s downtown campus. She began her new job Aug. 1.

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Ryan Thorn as The Officer in Portland Opera’s recent production of Philip Glass’s In the Penal Colony. Photo: Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

The opera’s announcement was made with the release of a new five-year plan, and is in response to several seasons of deficit operation: “Cumulative operating cash flow losses since the FY 2015–16 change to a summer season could result in the opera drawing down its endowment completely in seven years if decisive action is not taken now.”

Among other things, the plan calls for “a venue mix that reflects the desire for both grand and intimate experiences.” The company currently performs in the 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium, the 870-seat Newmark Theatre, and the intimate studio space at the opera’s headquarters at the east end of the Tillicum Bridge. That space could be developed further in the future. “The second big strategy in this section is exploring a longer term vision and feasibility to redevelop the Central Eastside waterfront property that Portland Opera owns, through opportunities that could mutually benefit Portland Opera, other arts organizations, and the entire community,” the report says. The report also suggests that the company could do some programming in “unexpected places to meet people where they are,” as several of the city’s contemporary music groups do.

The opera’s shift to a summer season has been judged a failed experiment. But while the dates of productions changed, the kinds of operas being presented generally didn’t, and the company never created the festival approach that has been successful in other summer-season companies such as Santa Fe Opera.

You can read the complete announcement, which contains considerable more detail, here. The announcement emphasizes that the plan is a work in progress.

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Linda Tesner. Photo courtesy Portland State University

PSU’s announcement that Tesner will be the first director of the new Jordan Schnitzer museum provides the answer to a big question in Oregon art circles. She’s spent decades as a curator, writer, and gallery director in the Northwest, and knows the territory and its artists deeply. She was most recently director and curator of the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art at Lewis & Clark College, a gallery that she developed into a significant art center that drew audiences from well beyond the college campus. Lewis & Clark, in a financial retrenchment, eliminated her position late last year.

The new museum – which joins Schnitzer-named museums at the University of Oregon in Eugene and Washington State University in Pullman – was seeded by a $5 million contribution from the Portland collector, philanthropist, and real estate mogul Jordan Schnitzer. It will occupy 7,500 square feet over two floors of the rebuilt Neuberger building, between Southwest Broadway and the South Park Blocks on campus. You can read the press release here.

Tesner should provide a steady and creative hand as the new museum defines itself and gets on its feet. It almost certainly will include exhibitions drawn from Schnitzer’s own extensive collection of contemporary prints, which is one of the nation’s biggest. Tesner has also been an assistant director of the Portland Art Museum and director of the Maryhill Museum of Art, in the Columbia River Gorge.

From the press release: “Tesner will curate the museum’s first exhibition: Art for All, Selections from the Jordan D. Schnitzer Collection. The exhibition will underscore the ethos of the museum and highlight its mission to provide free access to a cultural and intellectual laboratory.”

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ArtsWatch will have more on both of these stories as they develop.

2018: A roller-coaster arts ride

Baby 2019's raring to get rolling. But first, a stroll down memory lane with Old Man 2018 and his slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Well, that was the year that was, wasn’t it? Old Man 2018 limps out of the limelight with a thousand scars, a thousand accomplishments, and a whole lot of who-knows-what. The new kid on the block, Baby 2019, arrives fit and sassy, eager to get rolling and make her mark. She’s got big plans, and the ballgame’s hers to win, lose, or draw.

New kid on the block: 2019 rolls into the picture, fit and sassy and ready to start fresh. (Claude Monet, “Jean Monet on His Hobby Horse,” 1872, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.)

On the Oregon arts and cultural scene, 2018 entered the game with similar high hopes and then handled a lot of unexpected disruption, holding his ground and even making a few gains even as his hair grew thin and gray. He can retire with his head held high, if he’s not too busy shaking it from side to side over the things he’s seen.

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Processing Loss at Lewis & Clark

Mark R. Smith and Maria T.D. Inocencio's Loss of Material Evidence

Mark R. Smith and Maria T.D. Inocencio’s exhibition, Loss of Material Evidence, closed on Sunday, December 9th. The works in the show successfully take on one of art’s highest callings: to make visible the unspeakable, here an exploration of grief. The irony of course is that this exhibition about loss also marks the end of an era for the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art at Lewis & Clark. Only a few days prior to the closing of this exhibition, it was announced that the long-time gallery director and curator, Linda Tesner, had been let go. So the end of the show coincides with the end of the gallery, one loss merging with the other.

It would be a mistake, however, to let sadness over the loss of Tesner and concern over the future fate of the Hoffman Gallery to overshadow the achievements of Smith and Inocencio. The show was beautiful in concept and in execution. Inspired by the aging and inevitable loss of the artists’ parents, the works in the show are a meditation on death and the accumulation of things. The lament is tempered by a hopeful note of celebration of the power of family and community. Grief is felt and processed and then, ultimately, transformative.

Maria T.D. Inocencio and Mark R. Smith, “Time Tunnel” (2017). Reclaimed textiles, thread, glue, canvas.

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The Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project: Examining the culture

The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission have founded a new website that focuses on art in the state

At this moment, any effort to preserve our shared culture is a noteworthy event. This is especially true of the arts parts of the culture. As Oregon Arts Commission’s Meagan Atiyeh noted at a symposium that introduced one such effort, the Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project, the state’s media has abandoned its commitment to full-time critics writing about the arts. And that means that both contemporary conversations about the arts and future investigation of our culture are/will be limited. What happens to a culture that doesn’t understand its past or its present? We are perilously close to finding out.

Backed by the considerable resources of The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission—more than $50,000 since early 2014, according to Atiyeh, not including lots of staff time—the project intends to be an informal archive and an online magazine that takes the measure of the visual arts in the state. “The partners’ shared wish is to create an accessible, permanent, virtual collection documenting Oregon’s visual arts landscape,” the mission statement says, “and, to continue the metaphor, the interconnected realms of artist, institution, patron, curator, arts writer… which become that ecology.”

Ryan Pierce, From the Pockets of the Wanderer, 2014. Flashe on canvas over panel. Courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland

According to Atiyeh (in an email interview), the website hopes to reach a broad public. “We designed a site that I hope can be rewarding for a highly invested artist or a curator who is looking for research materials and also a casual arts viewer in Oregon (or any spot on the globe, honestly).”

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