Portland Artists Make Space for Galleries

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"Williamson Knight has taken over the Pearl District space formerly occupied by Hap Gallery with ambitions to bring radical and marginalized voices to one of the city’s most monied neighborhoods. Co-director Iris Williamson became a significant part of the operations at Hap during its successful run, and when owner Judy Jacobson wanted to retire the gallery, she offered to subsidize the space for Williamson and John Knight’s vision. Even with help, running a Pearl district gallery without funds on hand isn’t economically feasible. So they’ve designed an equitable model of distributed ownership that puts the artists first. This dovetails with their curatorial vision to provide a platform to voices and radical themes that are rarely seen in their neighboring galleries.

Their hope is to provide space to artists they consider politically and socially relevant while creating a platform for social and economic capital when needed. The 2017 curatorial program includes exhibitions and projects by: angélica maria millán lozano & Laura Medina (also known as rolas in pdx), Sheida Soleimani, Alisa Bones, Don’t Shoot Portland, Derek Franklin, Raque Ford, Dru Donovan, and Hayley Barker.

The inaugural show, Social Learning Theory by Sheida Soleimani, was one of the more visually and conceptually complex shows of the year. The small gallery was dominated by large, blobby fabric sculptures and complex photographs of similar sculptures in constructed spaces. These used a variety of visual techniques to thoroughly confuse the spatial reading of what was being photographed. That complexity and their vivid colors led many viewers to assume the images were photoshopped rather than constructed entirely by hand. Similarly, there’s an engineered confusion to the reading of the goofy, colorful fabric sculptures. Once you understand that the images that are digitally printed on the fabric are some of the only extant images of Arabic women imprisoned, tortured and executed for political or religious views, the cognitive dissonance becomes an important, disquieting feature of the show. The material is quite heavy, and you’re compelled to look deeper. 

In addition to their ambitious and intense roster of shows for 2017, W|K hopes to test their business structure in the real world this year. They’re developing a stockholder model that will allow anyone to buy dividend-paying shares in the gallery, the proceeds of which will all go directly into the day-to-day operations of the gallery and support the artist-centric business model. Contact the gallery if you’re interested in becoming a shareholder."

- article by Ním Wunnan for Oregon Arts Watch