I was feeling the need of some inspiration yesterday, so I went downtown to the Portland Art Museum, called PAM for short.
The first thing I noticed was that the courtyard between the two buildings has been cleared of all the sculpture that usually stands there, because this outdoor area will soon be indoors. A glass gallery will be built to connect the new and the old buildings at ground level, and for a year or so, this will be a loud dusty construction sight. I look forward to the new space.
Inside the museum, I found swarms of high school students there for the same reason I was: To see the new exhibit, called “All Things Being Equal”, which looks at race (which means the color of your skin) and gender (which means if you are a boy or a girl), and makes you think about how these things, as well as money and power, effect how we move about in the world.
The first piece, in the tallest gallery, is called 14, 719. It is 16 long banners, exactly the color of the blue field on the flag, with one star for every man, woman and child killed by gun violence in 2018. Hank Willis Thomas created it after his mentor was killed. An installation in the stairwell gave an idea of the sweep of grief all these killings had, showing the faces of the people directly affected by just this one murder.
The next part of the exhibit discussed, by the works shown, how college and professional athletes, particularly African American men, are used to generate money for the white-owned colleges and business franchises they play for.
The NCAA and NFL systems are depicted as a new form of slavery, and the pieces were very moving.
The largest piece in this gallery was a satire of Picasso’s masterwork Guernica, also called Guernica (which is confusing). It is a textile piece about twenty feet long and six feet high, replicating the famous painting in football jerseys. It leads to conversations about power and death and those who can inflict it with impunity.
The next gallery showed photographs from old magazine advertisements featuring African American people. The words had been removed so you weren’t told what was being sold, although I remember some of these ads and can recognize a McDonald’s ad when I see one.
But what was interesting to me was the question, “What is actually being sold in this image? Is it just pants, or soap, or fast food? Or is it an idea of who we are and what we aspire to? And what is the value of what we aspire to?”
There were many other galleries, which I will tell you about tomorrow. My brain was so full, it will take a few days to unpack!