Saturday, February 20, 2010

Upstream Downtown

upstream downtown

Even if you spend a lot of time in downtown Portland, odds are that you barely notice all the parking garages. They're big ugly grey concrete beasts, very un-PC and kind of archaic. We aren't quite bike-nirvana enough to get rid of them, so instead we just sort of try to ignore them and block them out, which actually works rather well. The garage at 3rd & Morrison is among the worst offenders in the ugly department, although it does have retail at street level at least. And if you're on the Morrison St. side and look up (which I suspect most people don't do), you'll discover "Upstream Downtown", a collection of 18 brightly colored salmon sculptures.

upstream downtown

Its Smithsonian Art Inventory page says the fish were created in 1992 by the sculptor Gary Hirsch. They're done in aluminum, acrylic, and enamel, and they measure roughly 4 by 12 feet. Which is much larger than they appear from the ground. The page then describes the work thusly:

The exterior side wall of a parking garage features eighteen panels each featuring a different multi-colored fish. In the center of the wall there is a hook and worm.

I hadn't noticed the hook and worm before reading that, but yeah, there it is. It makes a bit more sense now. I mean, I don't think it's supposed to be deep or anything, it's a bunch of whimsical (and very 1992-looking) cartoon salmon. But at least now I know what they're doing.

As for why they're here -- I can see the city wanting to de-uglify its parking garages (or at least their most tourist-facing sides). I'm afraid it's still a big hulking ugly parking garage, salmon or no salmon. So I have to say the fish aren't working miracles here, although I'm not sure anything could.

And why salmon, you ask? You must still be unfamiliar with Portland's "Law of Salmon": The surest way to win a public art commission in Portland is to include some salmon in your project somewhere, regardless of whether the result makes any sense. And if your proposal is 100% salmon, you're basically golden.

I know I've said this before, but the Law of Salmon makes me wish we had more interesting wildlife in these parts. I mean, salmon are tasty and all, but they aren't exactly the cleverest, or most attractive, or most fascinating fish in the sea. I find myself wishing for a Law of Electric Eels, or a Statute of Toucans, or the Echidnas Act of 1987, or the Panda Manifesto, or a unanimous Supreme Court decision favoring Snow Monkeys. You know, something along those lines. But, alas, it is not to be.

upstream downtown

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