Longtime Portland based Curator and manager of the Oregon Arts Commission’s Percent Program, Meagan Atiyeh, is now a driving member of Converge 45 and Kristy Edmund’s Curatorial Committee. The following interview was conducted over email regarding Converge 45’s exhibition calendar, artists’ congress, and aims for the future.
Can you speak to the impetus behind Converge45? How did the idea emerge and at what point did you become involved?
I would guess that most Portlanders in the arts have chatted with Liz Leach at some point in the last few years about building a new contemporary art platform for the Northwest. She of course discussed the idea with collectors and artists who regularly travel to international exhibitions. Those of us who follow such projects know how focused energy and top-level programming can impact audience, patronage and critical discourse. A year or so ago, Liz gathered a group to help develop Converge and asked if I’d join the curatorial team. I’d helped to organize the Portland Biennial at Disjecta, and had stepped away from that after Portland2014.
Kristy Edmunds is acting as curator and artistic director the first two years. What’s so special about her involvement and unique about her plans?
Kristy is so well positioned to take this on. She knows Portland’s artistic instincts intimately — in a way that I would say even few practicing local curators do — from her time at the Museum and as the founder of PICA. On the other hand, she has been to the lengths of the contemporary art world and back to the West Coast now in her role at UCLA. Kristy has relationships with, not just the phone numbers of, some of the most important artistic voices of the moment.
Hugely important to this inaugural year, a congress of invited artists will convene on Portland to have a conversation about the current contemporary art climate and ways to push it forward. How will the results of this conversation influence Converge 45 in coming years?
The Congress exemplifies who Kristy is an artistic director. She begins with the artist and places the bulk a program’s value in their work and the bulk of her inquiry into their place in the world. The Congress is built to reflect what Kristy sees as a highly valuable condition of Portland’s (and I would extend that to the region’s) arts community. She will explain this more eloquently, but the condition is one that feeds the cultural commons, where artists are making work that is acutely aware of the world.
The gathering is an opportunity for a group of invited artists from Portland, New York, LA, Chicago and beyond to spend three days in conversation with each other, Kristy, and a small group of curators. We expect this is a generative conversation that continues throughout the year and helps shape exhibitions and projects that Kristy will direct as Converge 45 in 2017.
What can you tell us about some of the exhibitions that will take place during Visitors’ Weekend? You’ve co-curated at least one.
Kristy has set her conceptual framework for Converge 45 as YOU IN MIND. In this first year of Converge, we’ve brought together exhibitions organized by Portland’s key institutions that begin to align with that as a prologue. The David Horvitz show at PNCA is the first time the artist’s Studio Rent Editions have been shown. Josh Kline is a very important young artist commenting on a hyper-visual and hyper-vigilant political state. His is also one of Sara Krajewski’s first exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum since taking the post as Curator of Contemporary Art. At Reed, Stephanie Snyder has made a lovely and thoughtful exhibition specifically for Converge 45, “Northwest Dreaming,” which asks us to think about how artists place themselves in the collective, and looks inward as a means of understanding the social. Stephanie and Mack McFarland and I have curated a small exhibition for Wieden + Kennedy Gallery that includes a number of the artists who are participating in the Artists’ Congress as well others whose work we felt amplified ideas of YOU IN MIND. It is “E & A: Empathy Affect.” We’ve included works that are formally and conceptually in a state of conversation and empathy, including some new commissions for the show.
Visitors’ Weekend is a critical convergence of curator and artist talks, time to explore Portland art, as well as to gather at some lovely parties. Portland’s contemporary arts community is woven throughout. Especially timely is Disjecta’s Portland2016, which despite its name is a statewide biennial, curated this year by Michelle Grabner. The Biennial is happening all around us and also throughout Oregon. A post-Visitors’ Weekend drive to the coast along Highway 30, through the gorge and to La Grande or down to Ashland is definitely called for.
You’ve seen the PDX art scene grow and change in various ways over the years. What are your hopes for the future? What do you want to see more of?
Oh- that’s tough. By way of answering I should explain my place. I manage a collection of artwork for the State of Oregon that has been purchased since 1975 (when I was 1) but includes earlier objects. Much of the time, at the Oregon Arts Commission, I am working with contemporary artists on newly commissioned projects. I also helped to found Disjecta and take on independent curatorial efforts when I can. That gives me a pretty long view of our community that is not wholly based in the “now.” I am pretty excited to, say, dig into the notes that Rachel Griffin [Curator of Exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum, 1960-74] made in the margins of a committee agenda, or to sit in on a series of oral history interviews by Tad Savinar with Lucinda Parker, George Johanson and a host of other Oregon artists. I’ve also had the pleasure to get to know and facilitate young contemporary work happening.
There has always been an integral community of artists in Portland, Eugene, Eastern Oregon in particular that challenge each other. I think a lot has been said about “nurturing” each other, and that is not untrue, but I see these relationships as more critically driving, inquiring, passionate, which are to my mind more important factors in a vital arts community. Very smart artists set this stage– coming from Yale, Reed, going back and forth to the Art Students League in New York…
The art schools drive the Northwest’s artist population, mainly. This will continue to be the case until we can build a stronger collecting base. I would like to see more buying, more artists that can afford to work full time in their studios if they choose to. I would like to see our dealers continue to have a presence at the major art fairs, sure– that is now undoubtedly a stage where contemporary art is being furthered, but I hope that will be a secondary market for us. Much of what I hope for is already in place: artists that are basing their practice here, participating locally, and working in dialogue with international peers. They are traveling, realizing major exhibition opportunities…. making great work. I want for the Northwest to continue to find ways to support that condition.
Converge 45 Artists’ Congress kicks off July 26th, with Visitors’ Weekend beginning on July 29th.