800 E. Burnside
Friday-Sunday, Oct 1-3
Organizer Stuart Horadner appears surprisingly calm--considering.
Seated across from me at a café table, this marks the fourth time his cell phone has rung in 20 minutes. He pulls it from his pocket, takes a deep breath, and silences it. "The world may not need another art fair," he says with a wry smile, "but Portland does. That's what this is all about."
What it's all about is The Affair at the Jupiter Hotel, Portland's first commercial art fair, which will bring together a slew of galleries from Portland, Chicago, New York, L.A., San Francisco, Houston, Austin, Seattle, and Albuquerque. National publications like Artforum and Bomb will be on-hand alongside local favorites The Organ and Clear Cut Press. But most interestingly, the art will be occupying the rooms at the sleek new Jupiter Hotel, where audiences will have the opportunity to wander into bathrooms and closets, discovering world-class contemporary art in Portland.
Horadner has spent much of his career as the visual arts curator at PICA, co-owner and director of the Horadner Romley Gallery in NYC, and the director of the Bucknell University Art Gallery. All of those positions helped to build the collateral he and co-organizer Laurel Gitlen needed to organize Affair. After asking some of the curators and gallery owners from across the country why they're investing such large sums of money to fly artwork (and themselves) to Portland for three days, I received variations on one response: "Stuart says Portland is ready for this event--and it will be fun."
Whether or not Portland is ready remains to be seen. But for the "fun" part? That's a sure bet.
SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE
Affair offers viewers a chance to see a cross-section of contemporary art that could only be previously accessed by 1) traveling frequently to Los Angeles and New York, or 2) cultivating an addiction to glossy art magazines (a time consuming and surprisingly expensive habit--trust me).
Each room at the Jupiter Hotel will be a small art experiment--galleries and curators can use their rooms in any way they like to show off their artists. Some will give over entire bedrooms and bathrooms to installation art. Video art will bounce off walls. Sound art will seep into the hallway. David Eckard will present his bizarre poem/performance, Podium, in the courtyard. Hotshot collectors will sit on the edge of a bed and discuss $10,000 purchases while nibbling on ham sandwiches. For three days, Portland will be home to some of the country's most cutting-edge, coveted contemporary art. In other words, it will be a spectacle.
Even if you can't afford the price tag on most of the artwork, there's no need to worry. There are plenty of additional ways to participate other than coughing up thousands of dollars for a painting. Besides the piles of arty publications that will be scattered throughout the event, the IPRC will also be showcasing a political poster project, plus there will be a panel discussion featuring such artistic curators and academics as Regine Basha (Arthouse, Austin), Stephanie Snyder (Reed College), Larry Rinder (SITE, Santa Fe), Charles Stainbeck (Cleveland Institute of Art, and Saul Ostrow (former curator of The Whitney). You can almost certainly walk away with some free magazines, a $10 book, and some recently-acquired knowledge of contemporary art that can serve as an impressive icebreaker on awkward dates.
GALLERY DIRECTORS a GALLERY DIRECTORS
What's truly unique about this event is the diversity of national and local galleries that will be on display. While large art fairs in Chicago and Miami occupy gigantic conference centers that price most small galleries out of the game, Affair has largely avoided this pitfall. More than half the participating galleries are from Portland, and some are newcomers like Gallery 500 and Motel.
While this certainly creates an interesting dynamic for viewers (and ensures that more art will be affordable), the gallery directors are the ones who seem most excited about the chance to mingle.
"Networking with other galleries is worth the price all by itself," said Jennifer Armbrust, curator and proprietor of Motel. "We all work the same hours and live in different cities, so this is a chance to come together and start a dialogue."
One year ago, Portland Modern didn't exist. Now it will be exhibiting 11 emerging artists in a small room at Affair. Mark Brandau founded Portland Modern, a glossy local magazine, to give unrepresented artists a vehicle to exhibit their work. The publication soon found gallery spaces willing to show the work--that's when Brandau heard about Affair. He called Stuart Horadner, convinced his artists to pitch in for the costs, and purchased a small room in which to display their wares.
"Technically we're in the catalog, but I do feel like we're crashing the party," he told me in his studio. "We've never done this before, but it's such a great opportunity."
Visiting gallery owners, like Caren Golden of New York, also understand how important networking in Portland can be.
"Fairs like this are profitable for the bankbook, but they are even more profitable in forming relationships with collectors, critics, and other galleries," she noted.
Lured by the possibility of building their collector base and interacting with cohorts, galleries like Houston's prestigious Inman Gallery and San Francisco/Los Angeles trendsetter Jack Hanley are making the trek to Portland--bringing work by such notable talents as Robyn O'Neil and Chris Johanson with them.
This excitement mirrors the palpable energy in Portland's art scene. Core Sample and Modern Zoo illustrated what was possible when artists came together, channeling their collective talents and vision into large-scale exhibits. While the quality of work may have been occasionally inconsistent, the collective effort was phenomenal. Yet the real group of collectors in town remains relatively small, and Portland's potential future is still unknown.
"Portland is a city at a crossroads," as local gallery owner Elizabeth Leach put it. "I've always been impressed with Portland's cultural depth, with its intelligence. But intelligence doesn't come with purse strings."
While Portland's aversion to the commercial ambition that rules larger artistic markets is part of what makes it so attractive, cultivating the interest of collectors and the media is essential to keeping galleries in business and providing the capital necessary for artist's studio spaces. Will events like Affair turn a national spotlight on Portland's art scene, bringing with it outside collectors and media attention? Will local artists take the opportunity to engage work from elsewhere, stretching their concept of what can be accomplished? Will local collectors realize the quality of work and investment potential that already graces the walls of some local galleries and warehouse shows?
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER
In light of these many expectations and questions, organizer Stuart Horadner seems relatively confident as we finish our coffee. He's silenced another phone call and is comparing the work coming to Affair with Matthew Barney's popular film cycle, Cremaster.
"You've heard all about it, probably for years, and this is your chance to see it for yourself. If you miss it--well, you had your chance, I guess."
As the conversation winds down, Horadner reveals the heart of his mission.
"My goal for the fair is not just to leave people waiting for next year. I want people to walk away saying 'Wow, I loved the art I saw. I'm going to check something out every month.' I want them to realize places here in town are showing worthwhile work all the time--they just have to engage it."
In short, he wants Affair to serve as a catalyst, creating a dialogue with art centers around the country and pushing Portland's visual art scene to take the next step. It is a step that involves greater public interest, continued artistic ambition, and a national reputation built more on reality than potential.
The Affair at the Jupiter Hotel, Friday, Oct. 1: Collector & Press Gala 6-9 pm ($25); Saturday, Oct. 2 & Sunday, Oct. 3: Fair hours 12-7 ($5/$3 student); Saturday, Oct. 2: Panel Discussion: "Biennial & Art Fair Culture" 10-11:30 (free); see www.affair-jupiterhotel.com for more details.