An Affair to Remember

Portland, OR

Left: The John Carpenter Band in Performance (Career Ender). Right: Affair at the Jupiter c-founder and Small A Projects owner Laurel Gitlen. (All photos: Michael Wilson)

“We started an art fair because we hate art fairs.” Laurel Gitlen, director of Portland gallery Small A Projects and, with Stuart Horodner, cofounder of Affair at the Jupiter Hotel, demonstrates an acute awareness of the ever-broadening context in which this fair operates, and the resultant need for it to be just a little bit different. Gitlen admits that sales at the event, now in its fourth year, vary wildly (“Someone told me they’d taken in one hundred thousand dollars in one day last year—for a small gallery offering work for a couple of thousand dollars a pop, that’s huge”), but its status as a meeting point for people to share ideas and contacts is well established and was immediately apparent.

At the Affair’s opening last Friday, a modest but enthusiastic crowd filtered into the hotel’s central courtyard and embarked on a leisurely round of the forty galleries and organizations represented, each of which occupied a room in the low-lying building (more motel than hotel, hip refit notwithstanding). Most also made productive use of their diminutive bathrooms (several lightheartedly lining them with the gallery’s more risqué wares). Given the setting, it seemed appropriate that Portland gallery Motel was present, joined by a number of other locals including PDX Contemporary Art, Quality Pictures, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, and the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery at Reed College (the last showcasing a video installation conflating, by way of puppets, ancient Chinese folklore with the wit and wisdom of Sol LeWitt).

Left: Artists Zoe Crosher and Jessica Jackson Hutchins. Right: Artist Harrell Fletcher.

As the buzz not only of conversation but also of tattoo needles from the on-site parlor began to fill the space, I was introduced to artist Harrell Fletcher (Miranda July’s collaborator on the multiplatform Learning to Love You More project), and together we stopped by Atlanta-based publisher J&L Books’ room, where Leanne Shapton was busy painting her own versions of the covers of visitors’ favorite volumes. Peering over the balcony, I noticed that Miller & Shellabarger, an identically bearded artist duo attending with Chicago gallery Western Exhibitions, had already launched into their work Untitled (Pink Tube)—knitting, from opposite ends, a perpetually in-progress pastel scarf—and that John Cichon (with another Chicago gallery, 65Grand) was winding up for his turn as an ax-wielding “primitive.” Only intermittent lighting problems interrupted the flow. (“All we need is a mirror ball, and people’ll be diggin’ it,” enthused one gallerist as the spots died yet again, shortcircuited by the temperamental air conditioning.)

I spent some time talking music with former Pavement frontman (and Portland resident) Stephen Malkmus and his artist wife, Jessica Jackson Hutchins. Then, itinerant artist (and, according to her entirely accurate business card, “enthusiast”) Zoe Crosher and I headed for an after-party hosted by Elizabeth Leach at a nearby warehouse, temporary home to Hap Tivey’s large-scale light installation Building White/Eclipse. The party was an oddly subdued affair (perhaps the venue wasn’t nearby enough—last year’s official shindig was held at the fair itself), with a cash bar and muffled music causing many to wonder—installation aside—why here? Starting at 9:30 and ending before midnight, it seemed to be over in a flash.

Left: J&L Books's Jason Fulford. Right: Cooley Gallery director Stephanie Snyder with artist Greg MacNaughton.

Saturday evening’s gatherings were altogether more successful. Following the opening of Dana Dart-McLean and Corin Hewitt’s shows at Small A, a crew of faces (many of whom were beginning to assume a certain familiarity by this stage of the weekend) made their way to the expansive offices of Emmons Architects for a buffet dinner hosted by Cooley Gallery director Stephanie Snyder and the firm’s founder, Stuart Emmons. The speechmaking was enthusiastic but brief, the office a great place to poke around. “Is this what a fake boob feels like?” wondered Crosher, pausing to prod one of two giant inflatable globes guarding the entrance. Perhaps she should have asked Cichon, artist Deb Sokolow, Western Exhibitions director Scott Speh, and 65Grand director Bill Gross, all of whom headed afterward to the Magic Garden—a storied local strip club. Horodner later trumpeted Portland’s concentration of such establishments as one of its selling points, qualifying his remark in the case of one particular venue: “Union Jacks. I can’t go into Union Jacks. I don’t want to see my students performing!”

It was perhaps fortunate, then, that fair business kept Horodner away from the final weekend of TBA:07, a festival of time-based art produced by Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). My experience of the citywide event was fairly restricted—I made the rounds mostly on closing Sunday—but was sufficient enough to reveal that the grand tradition of shedding clothes in the name of art persists. “Simple Actions and Aberrant Behaviors,” an excellent video program curated by Pablo de Ocampo at the Portland Art Museum, included Kalup Linzy’s instant classic Lollypop, in which two shirtless guys lip-synch the call-and-response oldie of the title, while Claude Wampler’s satisfyingly rock-’n’-roll Performance (Career Ender) at the Gerding Theater at the Armory saw the John Carpenter Band frontman take the stage (after a lengthy video preamble) in the briefest of brief silver shorts. The audience response to the latter was excited to the point of unruliness. Hissing at a few poor souls (apparently embedded performers) who left early, they raised lighters in the air, stadium-rock style, as the piece, and the weekend, roared to a close.

Left: Artists Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger. Right: Affair at the Jupiter cofounder Stuart Horodner.

Left: Allston Skirt's Randi Hopkins. Right: Artist M. K. Guth.

Left: J&L Books' Leanne Shapton. Right: Artist Larry Krone.