Saturday, March 27, 2010

Portland Art Museum

I have many notes from the Public Library Association Conference to write up, but I want to stop for a moment to post about art.

For someone familiar with the Art Institute of Chicago or the National Gallery, the Portland Art Museum is a small place. But it is worth seeing if you are visiting Portland, Oregon. I saw it nearly ten years ago and have been longing to get back. I returned Thursday evening after attending library programs all day to find it was what I remembered and more.

The most obvious change is the addition of a wing filled with modern and contemporary art. Though not on the Nationally Gallery scale, it is not really a small museum any more. The other change was that the older building had been refreshed with repairs and slight remodeling. It seems a brighter place - maybe better lighting helped.

I started my tour as I often do with ancient art and moved into early Christian art and from there into European art. PAM has good quality works, though nothing in these rooms that I remember seeing in art books. I really liked two paintings by French painter Gustave Courbet and "Nature's Fan" by another Frenchman, William-Adolphe Bouguereau. The latter painting is so realistic that I had to examine it closely to make sure it wasn't a photograph.

The American art collection starts with an excellent painting of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale and two portraits of late eighteenth century Americans by Gilburt Stuart, who is well known for his Washington portraits seen in other museums. The most famous painting in the American collection might be "Mt. Hood" by Albert Bierstadt. The painter exaggerated the size of the mountain as seen from the north bank of the Columbia River; he also turned the mountain about ninety degrees, showing the face seen in Portland. Also in the room is an expressionist Mt. Hood painted by Childe Hassam, which I recommend seeing.

There are three rooms in the Asian collection that I remember well, presenting arts of Korea, Japan, and China. The large painted screens are lovely. It would be nice if there were soft cushions on the floor so visitors could settle in these rooms.

I wonder what Sister Wendy would say about "Nha Trang, Vietnam 2004," a huge color photograph by Andreas Gursky. It must be twelve feet high and eight feet wide. Maybe a little smaller than that, but still very big. From an elevated position, Gursky shows us hundreds of young Vietnamese women wearing orange shirts caning chairs in a crowded factory. The conditions do not look terrible but I wonder how much the women are paid. I wonder if PLA's opening keynote speaker Nick Kristof, coauthor of Half the Sky, knows about these women.

In the new wing, my favorite painting is "Found," a contemporary piece showing nine large bands of color that twist so that they looks to me like books stacked. I think the painting would make a great library logo.

I spent an hour and fifteen minutes in the Portland Art Museum. If I had not had another commitment, I could have stayed longer, but I saw everything without rushing. I hope to return in the future to see even more art.

1 comment:

mona said...

i also found respite from books and pla at the portland art museum. lovely buildings. my favorite i think was Elizabeth Nourse's "Femme au Fagots" (Woman with Sticks), c. 1899. oil. In the American art gallery.