May 5, 2010

Open to the public

The city of Portland's catalog of public art has added several pages in recent years. We took a look at some of these highly visible displays and found a few clinkers, but also lots to like.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer


click image to enlarge

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Various public art projects in Portland, photographed on Friday, November 13, 2009.

click image to enlarge

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Various public art projects in Portland, photographed on Friday, November 13, 2009.


The collection of public art in Portland is growing. New pieces are added annually, while old pieces receive renewed attention, refurbishment and rejuvenation.

Most of the responsibility for this work falls on the shoulders of the Portland Public Art Committee, a group of 10 residents, business people and artists who volunteer their expertise to oversee the collection. At the same time, we're seeing more and more private individuals and companies add to the collection by donating pieces or commissioning new work.

Public art means different things to different people. Most of us understand it as statuary and sculpture, honoring noble residents or events from the past. But is also can include things like street furniture, architectural details, fixed or temporary lighting, seasonal installations and graffiti walls.

In the most general sense, public art references any piece of art that exists in the public domain.

I recently joined art critics Phil Isaacson and Daniel Kany in surveying the city's collection of public art, as well as pieces that exist in the public realm but were commissioned privately. We started with a list of about 30 pieces, and began making the rounds.

We looked at each piece individually, and considered its location, its purpose and how well the piece met its goal.

We limited our scope mostly to the peninsula, and tried to reach some consensus about pieces we liked and those we did not. Naturally, our opinions were mixed.



Portland-based sculptor Sandy MacLeod has graced our city with his industrial-connected sculptures of wood, granite and steel for many years. His pieces pop up in different spots around town every now and again. This summer, he placed three pieces down in the grassy area below the Eastern Prom, in an area known locally as Fish Point. They are tucked among a grove of small trees and brush, poking up over the rocks and riprap and visible from above the hill looking down on the beach and bike trail. From the trail or the Narrow Gauge Railroad, they are as obvious as a full moon. They stand out in the grove, demand our attention and remind us that oftentimes the best art is that which is least expected. These three will remain up until next summer, but one could make a case for them to remain here permanently. -- B.K.

MICHAEL, John Raimondi, Middle and Temple streets

For years, this work struck me as an effort to use some of the forms of its times (1975) with no clearly expressed goal. Then one night, I looked at it from the other side of Temple Street, and I was profoundly moved. I don't weep, but the elegiac reach of its pinnacle and attendant supports make it an evocative funerary memorial. Looking at it now reminds me that someone has died. It notes a death, rather than trumpeting fame. Unique. -- P.I.

This sculpture is notable for being an exception in Portland. It is a strong and dynamic sculpture that energizes the space around it. It is a bold and exciting form, as well as a model for what good abstract sculpture can do in a city like Portland. -- D.K.

IN HONOR OF THE FIRE DEPARTMENT Central Fire Station, Congress Street near Lincoln Park

This statue appeals to me without apology or reservation. It's just terrific. The man is noble, courageous and a little modest -- everything I want him to be. This piece may be a commercial product purchased from a catalog, but I see him as a continuation of our folk art tradition -- figureheads, sternboard eagles, carousel figures and the like. He doesn't have their spontaneity, but he does have their naivete -- that just-not-quite-right feeling. To find him at best advantage, go down Pearl Street and see him against a late sky. Alone, free of neighbors, he stands up against the cosmos. -- P.I.

(Continued on page 2)

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