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Wednesday, December 14, 2005


The Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art in Twenty Minutes Flat

A few Saturdays ago my sister Shanna and I made plans to hit the Hesse exhibit and the new Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Portland Art Museum. Then I slept in until noon and after several delays and a late lunch at the Skyline Cafe, we didn't get down there until around 4 PM. This presented a problem: we only had an hour until closing to absorb the artistic wealth of the house of Hesse anda renovated Masonry temple full of modern art. WIth the holidays coming up and knowing full well it would be a good long while before either of us got another shot at this, we shelled at the $13 bucks a head (after the Starbucks card discount) and got to work.

So a little over a week later, how much knowledge of 18th century German and modern art (factual and distorted) have I retained after blasting through the Portland Art's museum's two buildings? Let's find out. Here's what I can tell you about the Hesse family's private collection, unveiled for the first time ever at the Portland Art Museum:

  • The family's patriarch was really fat and I think he had an affair with a woman that looked like a nun. A portrait of the two sits in the exhibit's first room.

  • 18th century German aristocrats really dug fancy china and table settings. A display case in one room contained an elaborate wine fountain made out of silver. In it, a cherub sits on a barrel at the base beneath various Greek gods and goddesses. While probably priceless it looks like something you might find in a motel off the Vegas strip. In another room an elaborate setting covers a table capable of playing host to twenty people. It's made of gold and or brass and looked like the Ark of the Covenant.

  • The Hesses also had a passion for guns covered in painted ivy, figurines, silverware and swivel chairs.

  • The exhibit's big finale was a 15th century depiction of Mary and...the mayor of a random German town. His family kneels beside her. She looks like she's half asleep and a second away from closing her eyes and shaking her head as this three century old display of unadulterated egotism. The portrait also includes the mayor's ex-wife and his various children. While admittedly mesmerizing, there's simply no getting around the fact that the guy looked exactly like the star of "My Father, the Hero." GĂ©rard Depardieu, is that you?

  • With all the little old ladies and bored children to get around, we only had twenty-five minutes left for all the modern art next door in the Jubitz Center. The museum was mostly empty, clearing an easy path for our late afternoon art binge. With 5.5 floors ahead of us we'd have to conquer each one in five minutes flat. No problem.

    LOWER LEVEL: We were in and out of here in nothing flat. Nothing down there but more dishes and a few scattered sculptures. A quick glance and we were already running ahead of schedule.

    1ST FLOOR: As we headed upstairs I was suddenly reminded of the old "Kung Fu" game for the NES. We had five floors to clear and even the museum's concrete stairs oddly recalled those tread upon by the game's nameless karate hero. While there weren't any snakes in jars or bald giants to vanquish, the art would have to do. This floor contained more sculptures (yawn) and various impression and post-impressionism pieces. I have no idea what either of those terms mean and can't recall a single bit of art on this floor.

    SECOND FLOOR: Minimalism. Giant canvases with lines and dots. Intricate wooden displays. A piece made out of cardboard that looked like it took five minutes to put together. I was once swayed by a passage in Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champion"'s that attempts to defend modern art. In it, a gallery full of art lovers lambast an artist that has a painted a single line on a canvas, Someone pipes up and says his eight year old could whip the same thing together with minimal (*ha*) effort. Backed into a corner, the artist eloquently explains the toil that went into that line. Hey, I read the book in high school and I bought it at the time. After six minutes on the second floor of the Jubitz Center I've reverted back to my original stance on the subject: minimalist art blows goats.

    SECOND FLOOR MEZZANINE: Photographs. Hey, look, it's that shot of the hippie sticking the flowers in National Guard's guns that was in Life Magazine. And that one of the exhausted woman living in the Dust Bowl...that was in Life Magazine. Whatever happened to that mag? It's opening section devoted to full-page photographs was always great. I miss "Just Once More." Bring back Life!

    THIRD FLOOR: By this time I was getting woozy and we only had ten minutes left. A gallery guard (or are they called "attendants") was already on her heals warning us that we only had five minutes. FIVE MINUTES?!!! We hadn't taken into consideration that the staff would want to allow time for visitors to actually exit the museum by 5 PM. To make matters worse, we'd finally found some art worth looking at- dozens of pop art displays right up my alley. One portrait contained a nightmarish, anti-consumerism collage full of corporate logos. While it's fine and dandy to decry McDonalds, HOW DARE THE ARTIST include a can of Miller Hi-LIfe, the greatest beer in the history of the world! I wanted to jot down his name so I could write him or his heirs a nasty letter but there was no time for that. The art started spinning and I was on the ground.

    ME: "Go on without me. I'll never make it. There's so much more art to...appreciate (cough).

    SHANNA: "Get off the ground. People are staring."

    ME: "I'll only slow you down. Go on. Leave me."

    SHANNA: "You suck."

    ME: Give me the map. You head for the fifth floor. I'll appreciate as many of the ones down here as I can before they storm the stairs."

    SHANNA: "You're making this up. This didn't happen. You put this part in here because you know no one's going to read this whole stupid blog post about an art museum. You're just screwing around at this point."

    ME: "You're right. I'll get up off the floor now. Let us never speak of this again."

    In another room sat a display seemingly sliced out of an old motel. There was even a vacancy sign in the facade's window. I can't say I've ever seen anything like it. This floor also contained a TV covered in paint. The piece is probably ripe with themes and metaphors my little brain just can't process.

    FOURTH FLOOR: Last one. Honestly, these last two floors have blended together in my mind. Maybe the motel thing was at the top. Really the only other piece I remember is an orange neon sign sitting over the stairwell that said something seemingly witty like "WHY ARE YOU LOOKING UP HERE" or "I LANDED A $100,000 ART GRANT AND THIS IS WHAT I DID WITH IT." The guards were on our heals again and politely began ordering us to vacate but we still had 30 seconds and one room left. A quick buzz through the last wing and I raised my arms in a "V."

    We'd done it! While we didn't appreciate a single bit of it, we'd conquered the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art in right around twenty minutes flat. BOO YAH! IN YOUR FACE, JOHN E. BUCHANAN!!! If I'm ever in San Francisco I plan on getting in and out of FAMSF in half that, SUCKA!

    We even had time left to hit the gift shop and look at the persian rug mousepads and Monet coasters. While the two of us had succeeded in our mission, the afternoon would have probably been better spent camped out in front of college football.

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