Portland Art Museum shows Corporate Art. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Great: the biggest, richest, most established corporations buy paintings from the biggest, richest, most established artists, and I'm supposed to be so impressed by how artistically sensitive they are because they bought a David Hockney or an Elizabeth Murray? A friend of mine is some kind of VP at PaineWebber, whose collection is on view at PAM right now, and I asked him what it was like to work for such an "artsy" corporation. He said his coworkers are selling their houses left and right to put food on the table, and in many PaineWebber offices, the receptionists have been laid off, so the brokerage staff has to take turns answering the office phones and taking dictations. And for the record, there's nothing but poster art on the walls of his office building. The prospect of fawning over the PaineWebber collection was sounding less thrilling by the minute.
Shows what I know. Embracing the Present, which consists of 57 of PW's pieces, hand picked by Bruce Guenther, is such a fine show that I won't even give the museum a hard time for having such a high admissions policy. A glorious thing happened when I crossed into the museum gallery--suddenly I was in a real museum instead of an overpriced regional repository of work of minor importance. The ceilings looked taller than ever, the walls whiter. There were Richters and Rothenbergs in sight, and we could have been in any major art museum in America for that moment. The first half of the exhibit, downstairs, is devoted primarily to neo-expressionist painting from the '70s onward, and reads like a primer of painting trends of the last 20 years. All the major bases are covered--Basquiat is here, as are Salle, Clemente, Warhol, Schnabel, Agnes Martin, and token works by Rauschenberg, Johns, Jenney, and Twombly. The second half of the show, upstairs, counters with more contemporary work, heavily emphasizing pop, conceptual, and photoworks. There's work by Gursky, Ruscha, Damien Hirst, Sam Taylor Wood, and Gregory Crewdson. This kind of stuff doesn't come to Portland everyday, and it would be foolish to pass up a chance to see it because of who it belongs to. Sneak in if you have to. CHAS BOWIE