Sunday, February 09, 2014

Untitled, NW 1st & Davis

Untitled, NW 1st & Davis

These aren't the best neon photos you'll ever see. They're taken in daylight, for one thing. The neon isn't even lit. As far as I can tell the city never turns it on anymore, so these photos are probably the best I'm going to do. This is the public parking garage at NW 1st & Davis, and the neon art on it is simply called Untitled. That RACC page doesn't even have a description; it basically just says "David Kerner, Untitled, neon, 1990". But it does have a couple of night photos from back in the day, so to speak, so you can see how it was intended to look. If the page hadn't listed the date, 1990 would be the obvious guess anyway thanks to all the exciting festive triangles. If you, like me, are of a certain age, it's tough to look at all the triangles and not get "Pump up the Jam" stuck in your head:

One could argue that possibly the triangles look a little, I dunno, dated, and maybe that makes them a lower maintenance priority than they otherwise would be. I'm not arguing that myself, mind you, because if the triangles are dated, so am I. But it's an argument I could imagine someone making.

Untitled, NW 1st & Davis

The artist is apparently from Wisconsin originally. I ran across a Milwaukee (WI) Journal article from 1985 about a show at the city's art museum, "Technology in Art". Being 1985, technology in art seems to have involved primitive computer graphics and lots of Xeroxing. The creator of our Untitled gets a mention for his neon work in the show:

David Kerner skilfully captures our era's formal power and theoretical fragmentation in "Elegant Chaos", a controlled explosion of neon tubing that makes brilliant use of the inherent power of negative space.

That's the only description I've run across of anything created by him, and I don't think it tells us anything about our Untitled here. I was kind of hoping there would be more of a story here, something beyond "Random 1990 decorative item, but funded through 1% For Art so it's in the public art database". It would be cooler if it was illustrating various theorems of Euclidean geometry, say. It doesn't quite look like it is, but I've only worked through the first couple of books of Euclid so I could be wrong. It could also be an ironic Kasimir Malevich reference, timely due to the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous year. I can dream up of lots of interesting stories; I just kind of doubt any of them are true, though.

I did find one link where he (or a different upper Midwest artist by the same name) is credited as a former assistant to a well-known Wisconsin glass artist, whose work was showcased in a 2012 retrospective. Which is kind of a tangent, but there's some interesting (and quite varied) work at that link if you're interested in modern glass art.

Untitled, NW 1st & Davis

The SmartPark garage here was built around the same time the neon went in; construction was delayed because of extensive pollution at the site. Before the present-day garage, this block was home to a Broadway Cab taxi facility with underground gasoline tanks. And before the taxi garage, it was home to a gas lighting facility around the turn of the 20th Century, which left the soil full of coal tar. Yecch. Maybe it's for the best that a parking garage went here rather than apartments or condos.

The garage's roof is home to the Portland Downtown Heliport, which has the FAA designation "61J". It opened along with the building but was not immediately successful; the expected flood of busy and important executives never really arrived. Helicopters as a mode of fast VIP transportation doesn't seem to have caught on here among people who could afford it. One problem being that there aren't a lot of other heliports in the area, so you're limited in where you could go from here no matter how big of a hurry you're in. Unless you're willing to land in a parking lot or a field or something, and there are probably FAA rules about that, and anyway it lacks glamor that way. The city website doesn't offer any info about our municipal heliport as far as I can tell, and these days it seems to cater exclusively to TV news helicopters. If you see a helicopter taking off from the garage here, and it isn't time for the morning or evening commute, there's probably a police chase in progress, or there's a protest downtown, or another missing hiker out in the Gorge.

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