Curator channels Schnitzer's passions at new PSU museum
A new art museum opens this First Thursday, Nov. 7, endowed by real estate magnate Jordan Schnitzer.
Based in former Neuberger Hall on the Portland State University campus, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is free and open to the public. The first show, "Art For All," showcases works from Schnitzer's collection, with an accent on contemporary art, much of it fun, some of it politically incorrect.
Schnitzer also has museums at the University of Oregon in Eugene and Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.
The interim curator, Linda Tesner, talked with the Tribune about the show and what it means to have another museum in Portland:
Tribune: Portlanders might know you as the former director and curator of the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College. So, now you're at PSU, which got a big donation from Jordan Schnitzer to open a museum. This isn't just a private gallery. This is an art museum, free to the public Tuesday to Saturday. What is the first show going to be about?
Tesner: Its inaugural exhibition "Art for All: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation." When PSU started investigating having its own art museum, there was a motto that became attached to that campaign, which was "art for all." And, that was the theme that I took when selecting works for the inaugural exhibition.
Tribune: Schnitzer's collection has 13,000 pieces. He's considered a print collector, but also collects sculpture and painting. Did you have free run or is a lot of it tied up in other Jordan Schnitzer museums in Eugene and Washington?
Tesner: He has a very active and ambitious lending program through his foundation, so not everything that he owns was available to this exhibition. But Jordan and his collections manager, Catherine Malone, pretty much gave me full range to dive into his collection and make selections. Jordan is known as the "Prince of Prints," because he's so well known for collecting very deeply in multiples. But I was hoping to select more paintings or sculptures to show the breadth of his collection.
Tribune: If you start downstairs, you're going to see a bit more sculpture than on the upper level. There's a piece by Arman, a bunch of violin bridges set in clear resin. Why did you pick that?
Tesner: For an exhibition that is called "Art for All" you could think about color and composition, you could think about ethnic identities, you could think about gender identities, politics, social justice, humor, text-based work. So, I started making lists of objects that I would like to include.
There are many works that spoke to the human experience. I really love the way that our mind represents music as a means to enter the world of visual art and that piece I thought was a beautiful visual pun that spoke to maybe the intersection between music and visual art.
Tribune: You say Jordan Schnitzer's collection has a humanist bent. What does humanism mean in this context?
Tesner: Jordan does not shy away from politically charged or socially charged artwork. He has an extremely democratic view of work; he's not just selecting contemporary masters. He's not just focusing on kind of the big guns.
We all think of Jordan's beautiful Ellsworth Kelly exhibition, or his Warhol exhibition or his (Frank) Stella. He also collects deeply in work that might be a little bit challenging. For example, the Dinh Q. Le I think, is an incredibly powerful sociopolitical commentary on America's involvement in Vietnam.
(The Dinh Q. Le piece is two photos woven together in a crisscross pattern. One image is Tom Cruise and Willem Dafoe in wheelchairs in the movie "Born on the Fourth of July." The other is Nick Ut's 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a girl running away from a napalm attack in Vietnam.)
Tribune: So, why did you pick that one?
Tesner: Well, to be perfectly honest, it's not very common for a person that's in a wheelchair to see artwork that actually depicts other people in a wheelchair. I was hoping to include some commentary on people with disabilities but this is a very literal example. And, then I just love the anti-war message.
So, much of his work is about an artist returning to kind of the scene of the crime and the kind of push-pull between America and Hollywood and his roots in Vietnam. I just find his work to be completely compelling and powerful.
Tribune: A work by Ellen Gallagher downstairs is a 12-by-5-foot grid of framed images from old Ebony magazines. Most of them are hair straightening or skin lightening ads, but she's altered the imagery — some seem to have coral for hair, some shiny decoupage.
Tesner: The pages are almost all advertisements about personal improvement. And then she's taken that as a basis for collage. She's used to a huge array of interesting materials from googly eyes to paint. It's very sculptural.
This particular multiple also exists at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York) and at the Tate in London. This is a great example of a work of art that somebody could visit over and over and over again, and come away with a different reading every time.
Tribune: With the title, you're trying to get where everyone can see a little bit of themselves in the art, correct?
Tesner: Well, I think it's probably overly ambitious to think that every work will speak to every person, but I did try to represent various demographics, various points of view.
I've included a Jim Dine self-portrait, because along with ethnic issues and gender issues, there's certainly ageism issues. I wouldn't claim that we've hit something for everyone. But, I think that every object in the exhibition does speak in one way or another to what it means to be a human being.
There's a lot of portraiture, there's a lot of the experience of standing in front of those beautiful Kerry James Marshall portraits and you're actually looking at another human being that pretty much catches your gaze and looks you back in the eye.
Tribune: You have a Jeff Koons in there, who repainted some masters and put a mirror in so you can see yourself in the work.
Tesner: Jeff Koons did a series that he called the gazing ball paintings in which he actually appropriated and repainted various masterpieces from the history of Western art. And in this case, "Le Dejeuner Sur L'herbe."
A gazing ball is a riff on that slightly kitschy garden ornament where people put these beautiful mirrored balls in their garden on a pedestal to reflect all of the flowers and the sky and so on. And, just Jeff Koons, his idea was that if by inserting this very reflective piece into his work, you actually physically enter and become embodied in the work of art because the gazing ball catches your reflection. Koons said that that enhances the enjoyment of the art viewing experience.
Tribune: That's strangely narcissistic.
Tesner: I think it's slightly narcissistic and kind of funny, and there's lots of talk about what that idea is. Jeff Koons is so good at poking fun at the way we consume art.
Tribune: Jordan Schnitzer collects internationally, and there's a Tracey Emin across the room, a blue neon heart with the words "the kiss was beautiful."
Tesner: I love the simplicity of that piece, the universality. I think everybody who has been in love or has had the physical experience of a kiss can relate to that piece. As soon as we installed that piece and turned it on, we had noses pressed to the glass and people looking at the museum. I really do revere the history of art. I take it very seriously. I do love the idea of people taking photographs of each other in front of the Tracey Emin for sure. Or the Robert Colescott.
A longer version of this interview can be heard at www.KBOO.fm/artfocus.
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Where: Fariborz Maseeh Hall (formerly Neuberger Hall), 1855 S.W. Broadway, Portland State University
• Grand opening ribbon-cutting is hosted by PSU President Stephen Percy and Jordan D. Schnitzer, 10:30 am, Thursday, Nov. 7.
• First Thursday reception tours are by curator and director Linda Tesner and Jordan D. Schnitzer. Visitors will be able to view the inaugural exhibition "Art for All: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation," as well as the Arlene Schnitzer Visual Arts Prize, 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7.
It's free and open to the public.
• Family Fun Day is 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9
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