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Jonathan Beaver, 2.ink Studio

It should be noted that part of 2.ink Studio's design team includes historian Jan Dilg. Jan was instrumental in researching the history of the neighborhood and identifying the people, places, and events that make this area so rich in history. She also provided us with a wealth of photographic imagery that will form the graphic foundation for the heritage markers along the boulevard.


That sculpture is one of the most hideous pieces of "art" I've seen a long time. At least since that big scrotum-shaped executive desk toy in front of Powell's.

Looks like something someone with about ten minutes and a pile of paper clips might design.

How did we get here, indeed.

Brian Libby

Mec, art is a subjective experience, and everyone's entitled to their own opinion. But James Harrison is a very well regarded artist and sculptor who has done many acclaimed works of public art. Keep in mind that it's hard to know solely from a model or rendering what a piece will be like. And, if I may say so as a visual arts critic for the local paper, I think it looks terrific.


i'm not impressed with this "design." am i missing something besides the grass with 1 piece of public art plopped down?

are we to assume that this art piece is right for this site/project based on the fact that the artist is well regarded? because a visual art critic for the local paper says so?


I know my initial comments sound a little knee-jerk and "my kid could paint that" etc, and I don't mean to troll. And I respect your authority + opinions, Brian, and agree on many points.

Not, though, on these slug-like banana phalli that seem to be Harrison's style, and which have no bearing (I can think of) on the site. The project seems have been conceptualized out of existence, leaving the frame of something that looks not only like it could reside anywhere, but also, in my opinion, looks cheap. The artist's statement is vague to the point of meaninglessness, and seems, weirdly, to want to address certain issues (race, class) without having to actually refer to them. If "the stars" are our closest common denominator, we're screwed.

The organic, quasi-abject style of the artist seems ill-suited for the gateway to a neighborhood where actual people live. The twisted-rebar shape, if anything, suggests decline and sadness and makes me think of a Liepzig housing block circa 1974 or so, as seen from 20 years later, after everyone left.

OK, now I'm piling it on, so I'll pause... And to be fair, my idea of awesome gateway-style sculpture is those enormous "swords of victory" in Baghdad. That doesn't seem like it would be very appropriate here, though, either.

But is Portland that afraid of representational public art? I know the city hasn't had much luck in the recent past, what with the recent Chinatown fiasco (call it the curse of Portlandia) but resorting to totally abstract whimsy seems like an overreaction.

Also, do the little balls light up? Hard to tell from the pics. That might make me like it more, but, as you rightly inferred, I'm no critic.


it looks like barbed wire, which is hardly the gateway image that would be desirable for the MLK neighborhood considering its rough past.


from my subjective point of view -
i think it looks cool.
will be nice to approach the sculpture
from a long distance on MLK and see more detail when you get close and slow down for the swerve.


I see nothing wrong with the sculpture and actually think it has the scale to really fit this part of town. The comparison to the sculpture in front of Powell's is frankly ridiculous because the pieces are completely of a different scale and the context is much different. I think Harrison's sculpture isn't so much the point of this project and as I understand it this is only a master plan and the design is more of a "such as..." rather than a final solution. What is lacking from the images and what you can see from PDC's website are the heritage markers and how they portray the neighborhood. I think overall the design is a welcome change from what is there currently.

jim b.

I'm not sure what to really think about the design. It is definitely better than what is out there now, but I think it could have been so much more. I don't understand filling the entire space with a huge grass berm - it seems very suburban to me. What the MLK neighborhood really needs are more places to gather and to celebrate their history, culture and community. Granted, it is surrounded by roadways, but that's why the City hires designers - to be creative.
I'm kind of indifferent to Mr. Harrison's sculpture. It kind of reminds me of a toy I once bought my daughter where you try to move beads up and down a spiral frame.


I understand the current design is still in the schematic phase but I'd like to see how the two (green colored) parts of the proposed park are to be 'connected' with all that traffic dividing the site. I drive by this area often and trust one of the largest design challenges is going to be how to make it inviting to pedestrians.

As for the sculpture, I like it.


"I drive by this area often and trust one of the largest design challenges is going to be how to make it inviting to pedestrians"

I agree. This site is an island within an island. I'm not particularly excited by what I see at this point design wise. However, I'll reserve my judgment until it is completed, as I know how much concepts evolve through the process.

One question: How does the new, butt ugly, orange, green and yellow building north of this site fit into the master plan? This building has to be the ugliest building I've seen. Ever. Its Bad, bad, bad....

How successful can a master plan be in enhancing neighborhood identity if crap like this new building is continually allowed to be built?


I haven't been by that area for awhile, so my mental recollection of it isn't so good. The google pic above actually shows it presently having quite a lot of shrubbery or trees or something. If that's the way it is today, what's wrong with that?

Kind of hard to tell from the rendering, but what's the point of the bland expanse of grass? The triangle is such a relatively large area. Being next to such a highly trafficked street, it's not likely to ever be suitable as a place for people hang out and relax. For such an area, maybe something more natural and dimensional, relative to Robert Murase's creation for Collin's Circle at Goose Hollow, might be worth considering.

The sculpture: It's not so fair to rely too heavily on a picture of a model for what it's going to be like in real life. It might turn out to be great, but never the less, for me, Jim B's comment fits: "It kind of reminds me of a toy I once bought my daughter where you try to move beads up and down a spiral frame."

It made me think of something Calder might have considered; some similarity of material proportions between some of his work and this, but I think Calder would have produced something far more graceful. This sculpture looks like it has thoughts of growing up to be an eggplant someday. Bon appetit'!

I suppose all sculpture doesn't have to be marvelously inspired, graceful and beautiful. Mec's comment: "At least since that big scrotum-shaped executive desk toy in front of Powell's." ...made me laugh. Kind of true. Well, for your perusal... sex education in the public setting for the masses. Initially, I was more favorable to that sculpture. Since then, visually, I dislike it more each time I see it. I kind of wish some enterprising meth heads would steal it and scrap the damn thing.

Seriously, ugly though it may be in the eyes of some, it's public interactive capability is it's redeeming feature. Not a bad idea when public sculpture offers that (I wonder how long it will be before someone climbs Harrison's night sky basket?). It's great fun to watch people learn how to get the whiskers moving to maximum. It's kind of a physics lesson. Maybe some of them are just making an excuse to cop a feel.

Sean Casey

I look forward to climbing to the top of Mr. Harrisons sculpture.


Why the heck isn't the city focusing on developing some actual greenspace, public gathering areas, within the neighborhood? Building a "gateway" which - by the very nature of the site - is not going to be pedestrian friendly for a very long time (well, at least, until there are actual pedestrians in the area).

We should be taking cues from places like Barcelona, where they funded an impressive program to build hundreds of public space projects throughout the city, which helped make the entire city more pedestrian friendly.

Maybe a good "gateway" project would be to ban cars and put in a 50-foot wide sidewalk with a roundabout and trees. As we can see, however, it is basically lipstick on a pig; the dominance of the car remains... MLK almost belongs in Los Angeles, in my opinion.


LA? Please...maybe you haven't ever been there. MLK would look like a quaint country lane compared to anything in LA or Barcelona for that matter. Until the adjacent uses change on this street I think a makeover is not such a bad idea, especially one backed by the input of people living and working around there. Banning cars (taking out the parking spaces) is what killed MLK to begin with.

brad c

why has the "lipstick on a pig" phrase become so ubiquitous in public forums lately?

The MLK gateway project is a strong indicator of more planning and not enough doing by the city. They need to earmark the funds to get projects done in this area. Treat MLK as an important piece of the fabric that is the past and future of portland not a second class street that gets a lot of lipservice.

I like the sculpture. It's not amazing but the truth behind its reference to the northstar is an important cultural aspect to pick up on.

I also think there has to be more emphasis on how the design works at a human scale because I, like many others, drive by this location regularly not walk by it.


Harrison had a studio blocks from there on MLK. So he knows the 'hood. However visiting MLK from the Y to Columbia yesterday, I was struck by so many vacant storefronts. Can this project create a new neighborhood welding and fabrication business? How about a landscape design-build business? A concrete bsiness? It could be created and trained for the project. How about construction by new minority-owned businesses? I'm all for art, but the area is hurting.

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