>re.view< University of Oregon's WHITE BOX
AN OPEN DIALOG ON STREET ART AND GRAFFITI
by Jonny Boys
The University of Oregon’s White Box space in Portland is a gem hidden amongst the city’s plethora of art galleries. It is located in Old Town Chinatown.
The White Box UO works by a proposal process. They have a call for artists once a year, that allows for artists and curators to propose a show for the space. There is a selection committee which is made up of different departments from the University as well as the acting Gallery Manager and outside constituents such as Victoria Frey who is the executive director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.
I had heard mention of it before, but really had no point of reference for it until I met Tomas Valladares, a film maker who graduated from the University of Oregon’s Masters Arts Administration program. Valladares is the current Gallery Manager for White Box UO.
Valladares and I met at one of the first meetings for the street art advocacy group, Portland Street Art Alliance that he and Tiffany Conklin founded. Conklin, a Senior Research Assistant at Portland State University has a Masters in Urban Studies. The Portland Street Art Alliance was born just before the White Box UO made the decision to open the dialog to the community by hosting the “The Reader - Affective Duplication” show.
“This show, actually came about because we had a show fall through, in December. The Reader had proposed through a friend of mine, Lauren Suveges, who works at the Jordan Schnitzer [Museum of Art], she’s a graduate of the AA program. She knew Reader through some people and said, ‘Oh it would be so cool if we could do a show at the White Box’. And so she proposed, and it was right after our deadline, so we were looking to fit him in at the end of our cycle. We are now scheduled through the end of 2014, so it would have been early 2015…no one is even thinking about that right now,” Valladares said.
The December show falling through worked out well for Reader, a prolific nationally recognized, northwest graffiti artist, who already had a show at Ditch Projects in Springfield, Oregon. Valladares seized the opportunity and asked Reader if he had work available for the show. The installation of the work was a major undertaking and they were under the gun to get it ready for the opening.
To say the work was awe inspiring would almost not do it justice. The viewer comes in off the sterile streets of Portland and comes face to face with a giant panel of rusty galvanized corrugated roofing with chopped up lettering from Reader’s name in two different type faces painted across it. In front of the metal walls sat a back-lit newspaper box that read “Is Your Child A Poor Reader.” All of the metal in the show was riddled with holes from buckshot blasts, all of the signage was made of a mix of gold and silver cigarette box liners. The show seemed less about graffiti and more about an artist that really understood the power of hand lettering and signage, a lost trade that has seen a resurgence in the past few years. Reader has one constant message, “Read Books”.
Valladares told me that Reader is struggling to find his way off of the street and into the gallery. “He is very committed to his anonymity right now…which is a whole other story, I’m seeing a lot going from the streets and trying to move into the gallery scene. Having that struggle, ‘how much do I put out there and do I use my real name’…Reader was definitely really reluctant to sign the contract and ended up not signing the contract and having an agent sign it for him. Our contracts are public record, being part of a university, but you’d have to jump through so many hoops just to get [them], I mean they try to protect those kind of things. But if you jump through the right hoops you can definitely get it, but it’s a months’ long process.”
The community responded really well to the show. They were able to get a few write ups about it, which is really positive for a potentially controversial art installation. Valladares told me that John Graeter, owner of The Graeter Art Gallery posted on his Facebook page that “it was the best show in Portland all year”. That is a huge win for an emerging contemporary artist in this town.
The University of Oregon took a huge risk to put this show on in a city that seems to be working overtime to eliminate both graffiti and street art from its public spaces. And we think it is a great thing. Until now, the public debate on graffiti has been one sided. Most venues in Portland that have attempted to show street art have been strong armed by the graffiti task force to close their doors to art shows, with only a few exceptions. This is a subject that needs to be discussed in a public forum as graffiti has been around for thousands of years. We take this show as a good faith measure that White Box UO may potentially do more to further this dialog in the community.
White Box website
White Box Facebook