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State of Wonder

15 Years Of Change In Oregon Art

Our pals at Oregon Art Beat are celebrating their 15th year on air. And they’ve organized a massive show featuring most of the artists they’ve ever featured - over 300.

April Baer/Oregon Public Broadcasting

The days before the opening, the galleries were buzzing. Three technicians painstakingly raised a fourteen-foot canvas to its wall mount, someone else positioned a ceramic piece on its stand. Workmen came in and out hauling away packing material.

As you walk around, you start to see the incredible story of how Oregon’s creative scene has developed over a decade-and-a-half. Chris Haberman is the curator and artist who hatched this show.  “Yeah,” he told us, taking a quick break from hanging the show. “It’s a lot of stuff, for sure. It’s not just 2-D. Close to half the show is sculpture. We’ve got 400-pound sculptures in here.”

A kinetic sculpture by David Butts, of Mad Dog Garage.

A kinetic sculpture by David Butts, of Mad Dog Garage.

April Baer/Oregon Public Broadcasting

The years have been very kind to some of the names Art Beat has covered. Looking back at who was in the very first episode, Portland band Pink Martini is thriving. Boosted by a busy domestic and foreign touring schedule, and lucrative music licensing deals, the band just recorded its eighth studio album.

Some others have had a harder time. Oregon Ballet Theatre has a new artistic director, and performances going on this weekend. But the group’s been without an administrative leader for a long time - it’ll be two years in July.

There are artists in the anniversary exhibition who don’t live here anymore. Some of them show outside the Northwest.
And for a few, it’s been a great fifteen years.

In 2000, painter James Lavadour was very well-known and respected around the Northwest -  a natural for Art Beat’s premier. But in 2013, his career shot up to the next level. Lavadour was invited to show at the Venice Biennale. At the time, he told OPB he’s loving just having time to stay in his studio and paint. “Painting is a progressive state.” Lavadour said. “It doesn’t recede. It only goes forward. My best things are happening right now. Painting’s going very well, but time is fast.”

PDX Contemporary Art

Between 2000 - Art Beat’s debut year - and today, Oregon’s population hopped up 12% according to US Census data and state estimates. And while not every one of those new people are painters, bass players, novelists, or set designers, it’s plain to see how population growth has affected the arts.

Brian Vegter can remember when there was only one art gallery in Baker City. “At this point,” Vegter says, “there are seven places in Baker City that are full-time art establishments.” Brian Vegter, and his wife Corinne  - Art Beat Season 11 alums - moved to Oregon from New York City back in 2006. Brian was a TV videographer and editor, Corinne worked in the fashion industry. They’re part of the changing creative demographic. Brian is now a painter who is also heavily involved in a local short film festival, and mentors high school students in their filmmaking club. Corinne is a ceramicist, and works on her art full-time. They’ve seen so much change, from the growth in galleries to the recent formation of a city arts commission.

One of Corinne Vegter's signature ceramic RVs.

One of Corinne Vegter’s signature ceramic RVs.

Courtesy of the artist

“There’s been younger artists moving in,” Corinne says, “some older as well. I think artists aren’t afraid to come here and stay here.”

But the past fifteen years haven’t only made opportunities for transplants.

Painter Darren Orange was born in the Northwest. He left only briefly for a stint at a bronze foundry in New Mexico. He’s been living in Astoria mostly, since 2000.“I think it’s very possible to have enough patronage and collectors in the greater Northwest to support a living,” Orange said. “I think with good representation and a good network, that’s very possible.” He paints, and also has worked in photography and bronze. He’s shown in galleries throughout the Northwest and L.A. He’s mostly full time with his art work, but sometimes picks up contracting jobs, to make ends meet.

Darren Orange, "Orange Blue Rip"

Darren Orange, “Orange Blue Rip”

Courtesy of the artist

“It’s becoming more competitive. There’s a big influence of artists coming from Brooklyn or the Interior to Portland to explore what PDX has to offer. So there’s a lot of artists and there aren’t a whole lot of galleries to represent them.”

One of the gallerists who donated space for the Oregon Art Beat Exhibition says there’s a parallel trend that’s influenced the market over 15 years. Mark Woolley says the percentage of artists moving here is definitely high. “The challenge for dealers like me,” he continued “and even the nonprofit spaces, is the collector base. I don’t think the collector base has increased numerically as has the artist population. You’re dealing with a static number of collectors.”

That said, he looks around the room, and marvels at everything that’s out there. “We tried to organize the show where there’d be sub-themes or sub groupings of work,” he says, gesturing, “This wall is Charles Froelich’s gallery: Catherine Ace, Sarah Horowitz, Tom Prochaska, Rick Bartow, Susan Suebert, Matthew Dennison, and Laura Ross-Paul…”

You can see them, along with works by James Lavadour, the Vegters and Darren Orange at Oregon Art Beat’s 15th anniversary exhibition. It’s on view in Portland through June 15th at People’s Art Gallery and Mark Woolley Gallery in Portland, on the upper story at Pioneer Place. Over the life of the show, you can take tours with area curators, and see live performances by bands and writers Art Beat has talked with.

Be sure to download the free App for the show. It’s available for both iPhones and Androids. It will provide the full schedule of events and tell you more about each artist.

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