Although they are indeed standing (in the Elizabeth Lofts courtyard) for the first time since their removal from the Lovejoy Ramp a few years ago, the fate of the Lovejoy Columns is definitely still up in the air.
Yesterday I wrote with some degree of dismay that the original artwork festooning the columns by Tom Stefopoulos is slated for removal from the columns and will be recreated for public display. Then, after being contacted by artist James Harrison, who has unofficially shepherded the project from the beginning, it seemed that it wasn’t the artwork that would be recreated, but simply the columns.
Now it actually seems I may have been right the first time.
The original artwork is very fragile. If the columns are outside, without a protective overhead cover such as existed with the ramp, the artwork will deteriorate rapidly. That’s why the Regional Arts and Culture Council and the Portland Development Commission, the two city agencies taking the lead on the project after much cajoling, have decided the best solution is to remove the original artwork, relocate it to the interior of the Elizabeth Lofts, and recreate the artwork on the columns for public display in the courtyard.
This I find unacceptable. And I can’t imagine I’m the only one.
One can’t argue with the physical delicacy of the artwork. Unfortunately the original columns can’t sit out in the open if the artwork is to be protected. But is such a dramatic intervention, one that irrevocably ruptures the very nature of the artwork, the best and only solution?
First of all, removing the artwork from the columns takes away the all-important context. Second, while developer John Carroll deserves a huge round of applause for stepping forward to help finally give the columns a home after years in storage for these public favorites (certain other well-known local developers either turned a blind eye or didn't appreciate the artistry), having the originals’ final resting place be the lobby of a private condo is not in my mind a valid solution. The original artwork absolutely has to be in the public realm. Maybe you create a canopy or roof to protect them. Maybe you relocate them to a museum such as the Oregon Historical Society or the Portland Art Museum. But you can’t have this beloved outsider art sitting where only a few condo tenants and their guests will get to see them.
It’s not to say that RACC, PDC or John Carroll are somehow the villains in this. But there is a lot yet to be determined about the fate of the columns and I hope people at the two agencies as well as the developer realize that.
How about getting a second opinion on what the best course of action is? If the artwork is going to be ruptured from its context, I think we’d all sleep better knowing this was the absolutely positively last option explored.
Currently RACC and PDC are working with a new curator for the project, Marie Laibinis-Craft, in developing a conservation plan. Those of you who agree with me that (a) removing the artwork from the columns and (b) shifting them to a display inside The Elizabeth is not desirable, I urge you to make your opinion known, either on this website or directed to one of the agencies involved.