When downtown’s Portlandia sculpture was commissioned by the city in 1985, she was originally intended to be a reproducible symbol of Portland, like a West Coast Statue of Liberty. That didn’t happen: Artist Raymond Kaskey maintained exclusive rights to his sculpture. But now, with the new group show Her Own Wings: Femme Representations of Our City, By Female-Identified Portland Artists, Land Gallery hosts a vision of what might have been. “Her Own Wings brings together local female-identified artists and illustrators to try again,” reads the show’s wall text. The result is a massive show that reworks the iconography of Portlandia through prints by Nishat Akhtar, Cate Andrews, Lisa Congdon, Marlowe Dobbe, Aimee Flom, Sarah Hayes, Meg Hunt, Jax Ko, Elsa Lang, Molly Mendoza, Nyssa Oru, Ona Pitschka, Lena Podesta, Chelsea Stephen, Adrienne Vita, Maggie Wauklyn, and Subin Yang.
It’s a treat to see a singular icon refracted through so many different identities and points of view. Portlandia has always struck me as the TriStar Lady of local public art—she’s anglo, vaguely Greco-Roman, and kinda blank. So this show does indeed read as some kind of recuperation in its various treatments of her. Among them: Jen Ko’s Portlandia as a woman of color with winged feet like Hermes, Marlowe Dobbe’s Portlandia as Women’s March attendee, Chelsea Stephen’s Portlandia as tatted-up mermaid cradling an entire city, Lena Podesta’s Portlandia as Godzilla-tall, rainbow-clad heroine. Land Gallery frequently showcases (relatively) affordable art, and this one is no exception—though the actual framed and signed show prints will set you back $100, you can purchase unframed copies for $40, with proceeds benefiting Call to Safety.
It’s worth noting that what happened with the rights to Portlandia isn’t exceptional. All too often, artists claim ownership over public art in a way that nullifies its communal purpose. Consider Arturo Di Modica, who said the copyright to his “Charging Bull” statue in New York’s financial district had been violated by the addition of Kristen Visbal’s “Fearless Girl.” But things change. And part of making public art—or, really, any art—is leaving it in the hands of the community that receives it, ultimately ceding control to the viewer. Sure, work can be misinterpreted, and the provenance of icons can be lost by their rampant reproduction. But if art is allowed to evolve with the city around it, it can gain complexity, expand to contain multitudes, and become a truer reflection of the community it’s supposedly intended for. Her Own Wings is a testament to that. It’s an expansive vision of the Portlandia that could have been, and the Portland that is.