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Return to the Museum and Downtown Wandering

In that glorious interval between retirement and pandemic I regularly ventured downtown to make the circuit of the Central Library, Portland Art Museum, and Park Avenue Cafe on up the South Park Blocks at the entrance to the Portland State University campus for an espresso and journal session. After that, when the timing was right and the wait not too long, I would hop on the Portland Streetcar at the stop directly in front of the cafe and take it a few stops down to the South Waterfront for a short stroll along the river up to the fountain at Salmon Street before catching the 15 bus back to my part of town. It makes for a pleasant afternoon.

On Thursday I returned to the museum for the first time since March 2020, when the Portland International Film Festival and so much else was derailed by the pandemic. The museum is now open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Gallery capacity is limited. Tickets are timed and it is recommended that they be reserved or purchased in advance. Admission is for members only 10 to 11 a.m. My ticket was for a 10–10:15 time slot, and I was fourth in line when the doors opened. As of July 1 masks are optional. More people wore masks than not, most of the staff were masked, and I was comfortable with my mask on the principle that it does no harm and it may help.

Ansel Adams in Our Time is the featured exhibit with more than 100 photographs by Adams tracing his development over five decades and eighty images by photographers working before and after him interspersed among his prints. The Adams landscapes predominate as expected, with some urban scenes from the depression era mixed in. Some of the landscapes are quite nice. Photographs by other artists are a mixed bag. I enjoyed the exhibit without being knocked out by it. Worth seeing but for me not a must-see.

After Adams it was time to take in a few old favorites. First I walked down the hall to Moses Soyer's Girl with a Cigarette. Then it was over to the Mark Building and the Janet H. Geary Gallery on the first floor of the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art where the Impressionists dwell. I come to this room on every museum visit no matter what else I am there to see. Monet's River at Lavacourt was waiting for me. There are also two water lilies paintings, not up to the majestic ones in the Museum of Modern Art that made me a Monet enthusiast but still pretty good. The majesty of those huge canvases at MOMA just does not come through in books.

Other favorites, to give an idea as to what I like:

Around the corner in the Burpee Gallery is Front Street by C.S. Price. I had never heard of Price until I came upon his paintings here. Other works can be viewed in the online collection, which gives a taste but fails to really capture the paintings.

What do I find in these paintings? And the sculptures? I am not well versed in the finer points of art appreciation and criticism. Or any other points, for that matter. Something pulls me in, or it doesn't. In Lavacourt the colors are quiet, almost subdued, river, sky, buildings, boats, those bare trees, together conjure a melancholy beauty with a touch of the desolate…or something. I am grasping for an experience I am unable to articulate or express so leave it at that for now.

As I make my way through the first-floor galleries and up the stairs to galleries on the floors above where the works become progressively more contemporary, I find that the higher up I go, the less interesting the art. Here are three examples chosen for no reason other than to give an idea of what does not do much for me: Kenneth Noland, Air Beauty (Schnitzer/Novack Gallery, 2nd Floor), Nicholas Galinin, By-Product (Theodore Lilly Family Gallery, 3rd Floor), and Marion Mullin, Untitled (Nancy Tonkin Memorial Gallery, 3rd Floor).

This is a function of my aesthetic sensibility. Others may respond differently. I try to expose myself to art in all manner of approaches and styles and to be open to different ways of doing whatever it is that art does, but this does not mean checking my critical faculties and my capacity to be moved or not moved at the door. There is no moral or aesthetic imperative to like everything.

From the museum I walked up the South Park Blocks to Park Avenue Cafe and was delighted to find that it is open for inside coffee consumption and lingering. Good to know for future excursions. I continued on my way and found Caffe Umbria at Broadway and Madison also open. Staff at the Oregon Historical Society Museum directly across the park blocks from the art museum seemed to be preparing for an event on the plaza outside when I passed by at 11. A fair number of people of various ages and social strata were out and about from the beginning at Pioneer Courthouse Square where I cut through on my way from the bus stop on SW Washington and 5th Avenue to the museum, and after the museum down to PSU and looping back around to my bus stop home at SW Salmon and 5th.

Central Library remains open for holds pickup only due to ongoing facility projects, as does my neighborhood branch on Belmont, which is to reopen on August 3. Eight Multnomah County libraries are currently open for in-building services, and the remainder are on tap to reopen by the end of July with the exception of Albina and Sellwood-Moreland, which will be back in August.

These are small but welcome steps toward a return to life in what was once a vibrant downtown that has been hammered by pandemic, last year's largely peaceful protests, and a homelessness crisis that no one seems to have a clue how to address. A hasty online search turned up a news article dated July 7, 2020, that put the estimated cost to repair public buildings at $300,000 and reported $4.8 million in property damage to businesses (Maxine Bernstein, City details Portland protest violence, damage, cost of repairs in response to motion to restrict tear gas, crowd control weapons, OregonLive/The Oregonian). Protests continued with accompanying property destruction and violence through the remainder of the summer. I suppose we are fortunate it was all so largely peaceful.

Portland has changed since I arrived here in August 1998, too much of it not for the better. Even so, there remains a good deal to like mixed in with what is maddening. Thursday's excursion was good for my spirit. I look forward to more modest adventures.

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