Saturday, December 07, 2013

Terra Incognita

At the east end of the Broadway Bridge is a sort of frontier fort-looking structure, guarding the northern approaches to the Rose Quarter area. It kind of looks like a children's play structure from a time before personal injury lawsuits, but it's actually Art. Terra Incognita is one of a trio of sculptures around the Rose Quarter, the others being Little Prince at the south end of the Rose Quarter, and the smaller Stone, Water and Heaven (which I haven't posted about yet), over toward the northeast corner of the district. RACC says of this one:

Terra Incognita is a massive gate-like sculpture at the foot of the Broadway Bridge. It forms a strong positive negative pattern of five cubes. The three lower cubes are bundles of tree trunks. In between these are two cubes made of piles of stone that are held in the air by the lower cubes. This work relates to its site in a broad context. It plays off the power of the natural landscape, the rivers, hillsides and mountains, as well as the power and scale of the man-made elements such as surrounding bridges and buildings. Averbuch felt that the dramatic relationship between wood and stone are appropriate for Portland. This sculpture has a feeling of fortification and frontier, elements the artist associates with Oregon.

I could be reading too much into it, but that description is phrased a bit oddly. It's as if they're gently pointing out the artist had some fanciful notions about our fair city. That is, we aren't actually a rugged Old West frontier city these days. We also weren't a frontier city back in 1995 when Terra Incognita went in, or at least it didn't seem that way at the time. The Old West may, however, be the one thing people outside the US know (or think they know) about Oregon, since we don't appear in the world's history books very often after 1859 or so. So when you ask someone from overseas (Israel in this case) to make something Oregon-themed, you could easily end up with something Western. Old West themes carry a lot of historical baggage around here, and the whole subject's been deeply unfashionable for several decades now, at least in the "serious" art world. You can probably still drive out to Bend or Joseph and pick up some bronze cowboy-n-Indian statues for your backyard, if you're into that sort of thing.

I suppose that's a danger when you insist your art has to somehow be "about" its location; you either hire artists from out of town and get headscratching stuff like this ( 'C" at Portland Public Art said of it "The first impression of the artwork is RACC (in 1995) was too cheap to mail Averbuch a Polaroid of the site." ); or you just hire locally and get a hundred variations on Heroic Salmon Swimming Upstream, or whatever the current fad happens to be.

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