Place Gallery has been a vital and important part of the Portland creative community for a number of years. I have appreciated not only the diversity of the programming, but the location as well. I had the honor of installing my work there a couple of years ago as well.
They are losing their lease in the Pioneer Place mall and having a closing event on March 30th. Details and backstory on why their lease is being lost are shared below in a text written by curator Gabe Flores. This is also posted on their website.
Portland, Or March 22nd 2014 – General Growth Properties (GGP, the managers of the Pioneer Place Mall) has abruptly decided to terminate Place’s lease agreement as of March 31st. GGP’s stated reason for terminating Place’s lease is that they have recently acquired new retail tenants willing to develop the 2 store fronts currently occupied by Place. This is certainly possible, however the news comes shortly after a pointed disagreement regarding the themes of the current shows in Place’s White gallery: Paul Clay’s Parking Lot Dance
, John Dougherty’s Shit Balloons
, and Michael Reinsch’s A High Improbability of Death: A Celebration of Suicide
. In the interest of transparency Place has decided to make available the correspondence between Place, and GGP which occurred shortly before the termination of Place’s lease. What follows is an email sent February 21st from GGP’s General Manager Bob Buchanan after receiving Place’s standard newsletter invite for the shows in question:Gabe
Seriously?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.
Curator/Director of Place, Gabe Flores’, response February 23rd:
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,
(Attached are the 6 of the 19 photos Place submitted with the above response depicting products sold throughout the mall that variously include profanity and violence. Additionally, Place immediately submitted to GGP the requested information regarding our next 3 months of programming for advance approval.)
No further contact was made between Place and GGP until Place received a notice of lease termination via certified letter on Wednesday, March 19th. Later that afternoon Gabe Flores met with GM Bob Buchanan to ask if there was any possibility of continuing the Place project. Mr. 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.”
The all-volunteer staff at Place is certainly saddened to be losing the gallery, but are thrilled with Place’s impact on local art. Place was founded by Gary Wiseman, and Gabe Flores in June of 2010 as a two month performative installation. It concludes its nearly 4 year run after having exhibited the works of hundreds of artists—leaving a legacy of synergy, and interconnection in Portland’s contemporary art community. Place’s relationship with GGP has long been smooth and surprisingly effortless. GGP has been incredibly generous and Place does not want their support of the arts to go unnoticed; it’s been an experiment for GGP as much as it has been for the staff of Place.
Place has loved being able to create a welcoming art hub in a truly unique location. A very important thank you must go to Place’s incredibly loyal and hardworking crew of dedicated volunteers for the thousands of hours they have collectively donated to support contemporary art.
Regretfully this termination causes the cancellation of Place’s remaining 2014 exhibition season. The following artists, curators, and institutions will be losing their exhibitions:
Hannah Piper Burns, Palma Corral, Brooks Dierdorff, Will Elder, André Filipek, Chris Freeman, Jonathan Eric Gann, Nicolo Gentile, Erik Geschke, Ben Glas, Katherine Groesbeck, Joshua Kim, Matthew Leavitt, Rhoda London, Mark Martinez, Albert Navetta, Kayleigh Nelson, Travis Nikolai, The Pacific Northwest College of Art, Roger Peet, Julie Perini, PHAME Academy, Portland State University, Claire Redman, Nicolas Reibel, and Gary Wiseman.
Place plans a performance-based closing celebration, You Can’t Ride the Bus for Free Forever, Sunday March 30th from 2 – 5pm. More information regarding this event will be released in the coming days.
Attached is a PDF of the email thread between Place and GGP.
*On January 27th Gabe Flores grabbed someone as they attempted to jump from the balcony along the top floor of Pioneer Place Mall.
**PORT named Place as one of the Best Alternative Spaces in town in their article, “Last Words: Portland’s Visual Art Scene in 2013.” The statement was shortened for the sake of simplicity within the correspondence.
***Gabe Flores’ response was edited for typos.
Additional images and details can be found at the Place Gallery website.