Saturday, April 13, 2013

Memory 99

So, the good news is that Portland's getting a new North Park Block, namely the block that currently holds the parking lot for the old Federal Building. The feds have moved out of that building, and it will soon be home to the Pacific Northwest College of Art. They apparently aren't going to need a parking lot, so it's going to be a park instead. And since it's a park next to an art school in Portland, it's inevitably going to sport some public art. The art, in fact, has already arrived, even though the park itself is still just a gleam in city planners' eyes.

So far so good. It turns out, though, that this means we're getting yet another Lee Kelly piece. Kelly, you may recall, is the guy behind Friendship Circle in Waterfront Park, the Kelly Fountain on the transit mall, Howard's Way on West Burnside near the stadium, Nash in the Central Eastside district, and of course Leland One, aka Rusting Chunks No. 5. Longtime readers might recall that I'm not always a huge fan of his work, and I'm not sure the city truly needed quite as many of his pieces as we've ended up with. I'm actually not feeling all that snarky today, though, so I'm going to just set that aside and take the latest piece on its own merits.

Memory 99 arrived at our future park block last October after PNCA purchased it with a grant from the Ford Family Foundation. The same piece was previously seen in 2010 at the Portland Art Museum's show about Kelly's work:

He's a superior sculptor, of course. But there are many around -- Mel Katz comes to mind locally. But when I think of Kelly, I think of that lyrical behemoth greeting visitors, "Memory '99," which Kelly made after public art funding had begun to decline. Kelly paid for the work himself, using computer programs to help design the four structures that resemble twisting, exaggerated musical notes.

That's a telling detail. At the time, Kelly was making vital work, much of which is in this show. But with "Memory '99," he wanted to sum up everything he knew about scale, volume, form and materials, and he wanted to express it in a way that artists stopped doing, either because they didn't have the opportunity or were afraid to.

In other words, Kelly created this chance to prove something to himself. In the 11 years since it was made, "Memory'99" has rested on Kelly's Oregon City estate, surrounded by unkempt grass and shrubs. No one bought it.

Now, the rest of Oregon has a chance to embrace "Memory '99" and other fine, lasting things that Lee Kelly has made.

A 2010 Oregonian profile of Kelly (to go along with the show opening) includes a photo of Memory 99 at Kelly's property in Oregon City. Kelly's website has a larger, similar photo. An article about the show at Art Ltd. discusses Memory 99, describing it as "the monumental Memory 99 (1999), which manages to suggest both gargantuan calligraphy and archeological ruin in its grouping of forms in Cor-Ten steel." The same article also includes a photo of Arlie, another piece of his, which is now on permanent display at the Portland Art Museum. Yes, another one. Sheesh.

No comments :