Friday, June 19, 2009

portlandia [semi-obligatory]

So I've got this semi-regular, semi-interesting series where I track down statues and other public art around town, take a few photos, and try to say something entertaining (or at least educational) about them. I figured I'd have to to get around to Portlandia eventually, and today's the day, it seems. I'm stuck at home with a cold, and I don't have anything better to do, so I guess I might as well.

Every short list of Portland trivia mentions that we have the second-largest hammered copper statue in the world, #1 being the Statue of Liberty. So, in truth, she's a very distant second, although still quite large, you have to admit. This statistic is the first thing everyone says about Portlandia, so I figured I ought to go with the flow and do likewise, although I've always thought it smacked a little of small town boosterism, sort of our version of having the world's second-largest ball of twine, or the world's largest water tower painted to look like a giant peach.

Portlandia was intended to be a sort of civic symbol, embodying our thrifty, industrious, maritime heritage or something along those lines. It's never really turned out that way, though. I just don't think you can impose civic symbols by fiat, although our fair city just keeps trying time and time again (*cough* aerial tram *cough*). I would guess the Umbrella Man in Pioneer Courthouse Square would win by a mile if you asked people what statue really embodies the city. Most people just don't relate to the whole allegorical maritime commerce theme, if you ask me. It doesn't help that she's in an odd location, semi-hidden on a pedestal a couple of stories up, on one side of a city office building. It also doesn't help, publicity-wise, that the sculptor retained all rights to the image of the statue, and is absolutely opposed to Portlandia being used for commercial purposes, despite the whole maritime commerce theme. So no Portlandia t-shirts, coffee mugs, fridge magnets, shot glasses, collector spoons, paperweights, bottle openers, boxer shorts, snow globes, Halloween costumes, cutlery, bobblehead dolls, dominatrix gear, or any similar such things. Period.

I think I'm probably in the clear, though, when it comes to posting these photos, as this humble blog remains utterly noncommercial, and I've never made a single freakin' cent off the damn thing. Quite the opposite, really, when you consider the cost of camera gear I probably wouldn't have bought otherwise, and gas I probably wouldn't have used. If I started reviewing restaurants or first-run movies, this little hobby would get awfully expensive awfully fast. Oh, and the photos are Creative Commons licensed, so nobody else is going to be making money off them either.

A recent conceptual art project let regular people dress up and pose as Portlandia. The project's creator got the sculptor's grudging go-ahead to do this, which I guess was the polite thing to do, although I don't know whether it was strictly legally required. Even under today's rather draconian copyright laws, I don't think you can copyright a pose of the human body, and I think this would probably qualify as free speech anyway, at least under Oregon law. If it came down to it, you could probably argue it's a form of satire, if nothing else, if you had an expensive lawyer.


The Portland Water Blog has two posts about Portlandia. These, I'm sure, were some of the easier posts they've put together, the statue being just outside their office. There's something to be said for quick-and-easy posts.

It's also #31 at ThingsAboutPortlandThatSuck. The post mostly quotes from an entertaining Portland Public Art post, "I Loathe Portlandia". I personally don't loathe Portlandia; usually I just forget she exists. I don't walk past the Portland Building all that often, and when I do I often forget to look up, and when do look up she's often obscured by trees anyway. There's an idea that gets batted around now and then of moving her from her pedestal to a more prominent, ground level location. The sculptor's opposed, saying she was designed to go where she's at now, and he's forbidden the city to move her. I do think he has a point about the location; if she was at ground level, it would look like she's using her trident to hunt gophers. Which would really jumble up the whole allegory thing.


A few other photos from around the 'tubes:

And off on a tangent, it turns out there's an asteroid by the same name out there, 757 Portlandia. Sadly, named after neither our statue nor or our fair city.