michael reinsch

On the forced closing of Place Gallery

Or: How can you be in two places at once when you're nowhere at all?

Four years ago, Pioneer Place Mall did a very groovy “Portland” thing by beginning to provide and subsidize some of the empty spaces on the third floor of its Atrium Building to people and organizations wishing to open art galleries. Last month, the owners of the mall, General Growth Properties (GGP) rescinded that agreement with, Place, the first gallery that took them up on their offer way back when. Seems there was bad blood.

Oregon ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson wrote about the closing shortly after Place Director, Gabe Flores, made it public on the gallery’s website. Since then, other arts writers have weighed in on this abrupt end to the gallery’s lease agreement, including Alison Hallett for The Mercury, Richard Speer for Willamette Week, and Jeff Jahn on his site, portlandart.net. There was also a short segment on the local FOX affiliate, KPTV.

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

An appropriate sentiment/Gabe Flores

I won’t go into all of the details of the dispute between the building’s management and Flores (that’s what the links are for) ), but it seems to stem from the content of the art from the final show in the White Gallery portion of Place’s two spaces, and then Flores’ response to the objections by the powers-that-be. It’s worth a read. (link) Flores adds that the reason given for his eviction was that GPP had found a tenant to pay full rent for the space (Place was only responsible for paying utilities), yet he remains convinced that this was nothing less than a bum’s rush. The only response from GPP that I know of (GPP evidently did not respond to requests for a statement for any of the above listed articles) is a rather cursory and noncommittal written statement given to KPTV: “We do not publicly discuss tenant lease agreements, but please know Pioneer Place is very much a fan and in support of the arts,” GGP General Manager Bob Buchanan’s statement read. “Our goal is to create a unique and enjoyable shopping experience for all our customers.”

Before I get too deep into this opinion piece, I should disclose that I had an exhibit of my own work at Place last year. I have also written about the gallery on a couple of occasions, for both Portlandart.net and Oregon ArtsWatch. (One review was less than glowing.) I have had many conversations with Flores over the years and have grown to admire his fertile mind and enthusiasm for the local art community, even though sometimes both can get the better of him. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with his torrent of ideas, and his desire for inclusiveness has resulted in more than a few half-baked exhibitions (more often than not due to the presenting artist). The first couple of years of programming did not give me much hope for his ambitious little start-up, yet Flores and the gallery persevered, and the programming gradually improved.


Michael Reinsch. Gallery Walk. photo: Nathaniel Thayer Moss

Michael Reinsch. Gallery Walk. photo: Nathaniel Thayer Moss. PICA TBA:11

An image comes to mind of a white, ideal space that, more than any single picture, may be the archetypal image of twentieth century art; it clarifies itself through a process of historical inevitability usually attached to the art it contains….

A gallery is constructed along laws as rigorous as those for building a medieval church. The outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light. The wooden floor is polished so that you click along clinically, or carpeted so that you pad soundlessly, resting the feet while the eyes have at the wall.

Brian O’Doherty, “Inside the White Cube”

Why wait for PICA’s Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival 2011 to start before beginning to write about it? The official kick-off may not be until Thursday evening, but things are already Happening! For example, and this was a project that I eagerly anticipated by one of Portland’s own, Michael Reinsch has turned the gallery inside out with his mobile performance/installation “Gallery Walk,” which debuted on First Thursday and continues episodically through the festival. Reinsch performs as a mobile gallery, or a man in a “gallery” costume, walking the streets in a four-sided white box of a costume with cubbies to hold artwork.

The ideal gallery subtracts from the artwork all cues that interfere with the fact that it is “art.” The work is isolated from everything that would detract from its own evaluation of itself. This gives the space a presence possessed by other spaces where conventions are preserved through the repetition of a closed system of values.

Brian O’Doherty, “Inside the White Cube”

There is a rotating series of exhibitions on deck, but that’s a little beside the point. Reinsch follows Brian O’Doherty’s famous series of essays “Inside the White Cube” (quoted above) in critiquing the conventions of the white cube gallery. Reflecting its time, with artists (O’Doherty made art under the pseudonym Patrick Ireland) questioning everything about the production, economics, and exhibition of art while simultaneously seeking to critically broach art-life boundaries, “Inside the White Cube” may have generated a lot of conversation, but the conventions that were being addressed at the time haven’t changed a whit. But 35 years or so after O’Doherty’s essays on the subject were first published in Artforum, Reinsch adds a twist to, or I should say frosting on the cake of, O’Doherty’s critique by adding a soundtrack: as he walks around as the gallery, he’s proclaiming a mash-up of snippets of artist statements, gallery PR, didactics, and whatnot. There’s some artspeak in the monologue, which is what I imagine he’s aiming at, but there are also just funny words around the making, exhibition, and selling of art that by repeating deadpan, he hoists on their own petard(s).

It’s a strong project. It makes me want to read O’Doherty’s book in which the essays are collected again, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space. But the real value is getting the sidewalk viewers thinking about questions like what makes art art (does it need the privileged space of the white cube to be considered as art?), and what creates both monetary and cultural value in art (does putting it in the white cube rather than your garage or alt space increase its perceived value?). These questions were particularly interesting where I happened to see Reinsch: near PNCA, where inside the walls, students are being prepared for lives in art that ideally will take them to exhibiting in white-walled galleries and museums, while outside the walls, artists were displaying their wares art ‘n craft fair-style, selling to the pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. And of course across town, PICA visual art curator Kristan Kennedy and crew have spent the summer white-boxing Washington High School to host TBA’s visual arts exhibitions. And then there are the questions that a certain viewer will appreciate, including: Are we over institutional critique yet? How about the whole art-life divide thing?

I will say that the first “Gallery Walk” exhibition should probably have been its last. Curated by arguably Portland’s top contemporary visual art curator, Reed College’s Cooley Gallery curator Stephanie Snyder, the exhibition turned the project back in on itself by populating the shelves and cubbies with a mess of what looked like kid’s party detritus, streamers and whatnot, which are the kinds of props that Reinsch has used in other performances. So here was the artist-as-gallery exhibiting an exhibit that reflected on his own process or post-performance mess. Again, it would have been a fantastic détournement AFTER the gallery had exhibited work in a more straightforward manner by other artists. Alas.

Look forward to another exhibition curated by PNCA Feldman Gallery curator Mack McFarland, and exhibitions of work by Katie Dunbar, Wilder Schmalta, Ralph Pugay, Mattew Gruber, Nicole Erko Amagai-Smith, and Craig Wheat. Find Reinsch and “Gallery Walk” Monday, September 12, Wednesday, September 14, and Thursday, September 29 from 6-9 PM setting out from Washington High School.

Michael Reinsch. Gallery Walk Time-Based Art Festival, PICA Photo by Tony Box Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

Michael Reinsch. Gallery Walk. Time-Based Art Festival, PICA. photo: Tony Box Courtesy of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.