SOME OF HER BEST WORK "Deep River," by Noriko Sakanishi, 18.5" by 14", acrylic and mixed media, 2007.
The Phoenix's first 10 years in Portland roughly bracket the period during which I stopped writing about art. During that time I also didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the art scene except for the work of a few friends and others whose work I cared about. When the opportunity for this column came up almost two years(!) ago, I jumped back in and found myself in a very different world.
When I left the Portland Newspapers, where I'd been reviewing for nine years or so, the Sunday Telegram was the main source of cultural news in Portland. Turned out I had been there at the high-water mark of its arts coverage. Now, of course, the Phoenix does much more coverage than its sadly limping big neighbor across town. Big change.
Portland itself has changed a lot over that time and so has its art scene. There were, depending on how you count them, three serious galleries in Portland, of which two, Greenhut and June Fitzpatrick, are still going. Now there are four or five, plus a small handful of more casual venues. A lot for a town Portland's size.
In the '90s there were a lot of artists, but not so many you couldn't know, at least through their work, most of them. Studios tended to be scattered around in business rental buildings, and were cheap. Now there are whole buildings devoted to artists' studios, and they're relatively expensive. An open studio in one building will have dozens of names on its announcement, too many to see well, let alone get to know their work.
The explosive growth was a local reflection of the now-deflating international art boom that saw nearly 300 galleries open up in Chelsea. Also, there is more pressure these days to try to assemble a career someplace other than New York. It's hard to move to the city with its extreme prices.
The biennial at the Portland Museum of Art has become, for better or worse, a central fixture in our cultural life, and group shows in smaller venues like the Center for Maine Contemporary Art or private galleries will sometimes grow to include dozens of artists. Enough, certainly, to boggle the mind of even the most serious art lover. Nobody but Bruce Brown can keep track of all of them, and I bet even he misses a few. It's hard to tease a significant signal out of the vast spectrum of background noise.