Word trickled out this weekend that General Growth Properties (GGP), the property managers of Pioneer Place Mall, have terminated the lease of Place, the unlikely gallery housed at the mall since 2010.
Last night, Place curator Gabe Flores released a detailed account of his side of the story, alleging that GGP pulled Place's lease after objecting to the content of a recent exhibit: Paul Clay’s Parking Lot Dance, John Dougherty’s Shit Balloons, and Michael Reinsch’s A High Improbability of Death: A Celebration of Suicide.
Exhibit A in Flores' account: An email he received from GGP's Bob Buchanan on February 21.
Did you stop to think for a moment where it is that you’re currently doing business? A video that tweaks the nose of the “over-the-top, self-infatuated American shopping culture”?; shit balloons?; a mock suicide?
Why would you imagine that this would be okay here?
If this is what we can look forward to, you’ll have to find a different venue in which to curate your art.
There is an appropriate time and place for everything…I have an obligation to multiple users of this facility.
I haven’t felt that an appropriate period of time for approval of activities was appropriate until now. I will be revising our License Agreement to include a protocol for submitting a detailed request for approval inclusive of appropriate time for that review.
Flores says he received no response to his followup letter (attached below) explaining that the content of Place's shows is in line with materials sold elsewhere in the mall, or to the detailed information he provided about Place's upcoming programming. Instead, on Wednesday, March 19, he received notice that Place's lease would terminate on March 31. During a subsequent meeting, according to Flores, Buchanan "stated that GGP could no longer afford to subsidize Place's rent and that he had tenants willing to pay full market value. Mr. Buchanan continually reiterated, 'You can’t ride the bus for free forever.'" (I've reached out to Buchanan for comment and will update if/when he responds.)
Place's upcoming shows have of course been cancelled—so just, uh, ignore that section in our forthcoming arts guide—leaving at least one local organization scrambling: PHAME, a lifelong learning arts school for adult artists and performers with developmental disabilities, is urgently seeking a new location for their 30th anniversary student art show, scheduled for April 8-12. If you run a gallery or have any leads on a possible venue, send an email to PHAME Executive Director Stephen Marc Beaudoin.
Meanwhile, Place's final show, "You Can't Ride the Bus for Free Forever" will be held Sunday March 30 from 2 – 5 pm.
Here's Flores' response to Buchanan.
Sorry if we stepped over any lines. We were not intentionally trying to isolate anyone who might be a potential contemporary art enthusiast. We spend quite a bit of time at the gallery making sure we are inline with what is already displayed throughout the mall. Where we often look to make sure we are not overstepping are the following shops: GameStop, Kitson, Fuego, Victoria Secret, Forever 21, H&M, and Regal Cinemas. We feel we have kept within the aesthetic concerns as defined by what already is present in Pioneer Place.
As a conceptual installation/performance gallery we take ideas that exist within culture and simply ask for a longer and more thoughtful conversation. In Michael Reinsch's "A High Improbability of Death: A Celebration of Suicide," he is asking viewers to contemplate a shared existential crisis of being trapped knowing he can never leave on his own accord. Michael has 2 kids and a lot of people who really love him, so he knows he would cause too much emotional damage to those who care about him. Here is how Michael explains the process in his statement:
"The task at hand is not to bring about his own death, but to create an aesthetic experience that is a confession of his own intimate struggles with being. This performance is an attempt to couple his personal struggle with a wider conversation concerning the devastating effects of suicide on families and society."
He will be reading "notes" from folks who were suffering and have now passed, whether it was assisted suicide (cancer), hate (family disowned because of sexuality), Iraqi soldiers, and depression. This is an incredibly important and powerful exhibition and will touch anyone who knows someone suffering or who is suffering themselves. The closest I've ever been to someone who had either attempted or had committed suicide happened a little over a year ago in front of the gallery.* That experience completely shook me up, but am so incredibly glad I was there to assist, but also it made me much more empathetic. I know people are suffering and feel incredibly alone, so even if it is a conceptually difficult show we feel it's important because it's a very real dilemma that affects so many people.
We found many extremely violent games at GameStop where kids are able to play/watch on large screen tvs visible from the outside the shop. One game in particular sold, Persona, requires the player to first shoot her/himself in the head before enacting a ghost to fight for the player. You must commit suicide to play. The clerk at GameStop explained that individuals often commit suicide while playing to find out the limitations of the game, usually by jumping off of a building or drowning. We are not asking people to not play those games or not see violent movies, instead we want folks to slow down when they are in the gallery and think about the role of violence within our culture. I'm the first to find escape by watching violent movies at Regal, but realize it's a bizarre phenomenon for me to want to watch as much violence as I do.
In John Dougherty's "Shit Balloons," the artist is analyzing culture from the lens of being a dog and what would be most important to a canine to show as a work of art. Initially, John was exploring how dogs in Portland are often humanized and he decided to take the absurdity one step further and is showing in an OMSI like demonstration how the gas released from a bag of dog poop will inflate a balloon. The show is really about how different species transfer information and with canines it is through scent. For a dog there is nothing more important. The balloons in the installation are not filled by this means; all were filled with good old-fashioned hot air.
I understand the word "Shit" is of concern. We do not use vinyl for the most part to advertise our shows, so the word doesn't appear in the gallery anywhere except on a description at our front desk. In Kitson and Fuego they use Fuck, Bitch, Shit, and Ass, and a couple of times they use F*ck. We could easily in our description at the front desk change it to Sh*t Balloons, similar to how F*ck is displayed on the street level window at 5th and Morrison. Although, Fuck is visible from the front window at Kitson, none of the stores have an adult’s only area, besides the movie theater, so the assumption is the language is safe for people of any age.
From your response to Paul Clay's "Parking Lot Dance" it seems to be interpreted as a direct challenge to Pioneer Place. Paul is examining a context that is both participant and observer. Paul knows he isn't able to make his own clothing, food, fuel, technology, etc., so he is coming to terms with being inconsistent. The shops depicted are Walmart, Target, Sleep Country, and Best Buy and the video takes place in a strip mall.
I'm so sorry if the language used to describe the work made us sound flippant or disrespectful. I'd be more than happy to send you information in advance for our exhibitions and realize you received our invite and not a project description, which would have been more informative. We love that we are in a context where many folks who visit us are seeing contemporary art for the first time and we really love the long conversations we're able to have with folks shopping at Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, H&M, etc.
Attached is documentation from what other stores in the mall are displaying.
We really do appreciate the many opportunities you have granted the arts community of Portland. Pioneer Place has become an integral part of the contemporary art community and last year we were named the best installation gallery in Portland.**
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or suggestions you might have.
Thank you again for your continued support,