Pendleton Arts Center expands to Newport on the Levee; is this a good thing?

Urban sprawl has led to some of the saddest architecture in 100 years: strip malls, hulking drive-thru restaurants, neighborhoods begging for sidewalks. This lolling lifestyle can only be identif

 
Joe Lamb


Urban art sprawl?: The Pendleton Art Gallery's latest location opened recently at Newport on the Levee.



Urban sprawl has led to some of the saddest architecture in 100 years: strip malls, hulking drive-thru restaurants, neighborhoods begging for sidewalks. This lolling lifestyle can only be identified as quick and easy. Fast food beats cooking. Driving trounces walking. Experimentation loses pace — people stick to what they know.

So what happens when urban sprawl stretches into the art world?

At its inception, THE PENDLETON ARTS CENTER was an inexpensive downtown building that housed diverse local artists' studios. A quiet place, really, open to the public only on Final Fridays and Second Look Saturdays, like the rest of the galleries in the area, to sell and promote their latest endeavors.

Suddenly the Pendleton has gotten fat. It's opened studio houses in Ashland, Ky., and Rising Sun, Ind. Rising Sun is, of course, best known for the casinos and tacky hotels.

The Pendleton artists also run the 5th Street Gallery in Netherland Hilton Hotel downtown. The 5th Street Gallery looks like a gift shop (T-shirts and all) rather than a gallery, and to prove it, it has the Hilton logo stamped right into its own.

Walking through the desolate space that once held (mostly chain) stores in the Tower Place Mall, you'll see Pendleton-branded art in many shop windows. Artists overtaking an abandoned mall has the potential to be great — that is, if the work is great.

But to be frank, it's not. Most everything is oil or acrylic on canvas — abstract color blotches or awkward still lifes. The same regurgitated pattern taught in high school. Most of it is just fine. Not really interesting, not new, not taking the world by storm, but decent, average.

Now a new 8,000-square-foot showroom under the Pendleton marker has opened in the ersatz cityscape known as Newport on the Levee.

I'm no naif. You won't hear me arguing that art and commerce exist in separate spheres. Hardly.

Art is a luxury as well as a commodity. Even the most anti-establishment artists (like the English-born favorite Banksy) sell work in mainstream galleries for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Money is not my point. And I hardly wish to argue that only certain artists should be showing their work. Anyone can make art, even beautiful and elegant art. But few can make it significant.

No, my problem isn't with money or advertising. It's the distension. It's the fact that the Pendleton has turned into a machine rather than a studio structure. And now the lolling lifestyle of urban sprawl — the ease, the acceptance of the known — has reached over into the gallery.

Patrons buy what they already know and hesitate at the new. Artists, then, continue with their fine paintings on canvas because that's what sells.

I suppose it's this way with all the arts, not just the visual ones. Turning on the radio you'll hear the bleached-out bubble-gum tunes, not new sounds by C. Spencer Yeh's Burning Star Core. Bestselling books come in the form of Danielle Steel novels, not Olena Kalytiak Davis poems. Indie films can barely exist within the world of the blockbuster.

Pop music, Danielle Steel novels and blockbuster movies: all have patterns. The listener, reader, watcher knows what to expect, and that feeling is safe and — most of the time — pleasurable. As is finding a painting a lot like your neighbor's painting and hanging it on your wall.

None of this will stop the anachronistic thinker from making new art and new sound, so in a sense it really doesn't matter. But for those of us who live in cul-de-sacs and drive from place to place (myself included), I urge us to consider the possibilities and to remember not everything worth seeing has a convenient parking lot.



CONTACT LAURA JAMES: ljames(at)

 
Joe Lamb


Urban art sprawl?: The Pendleton Art Gallery's latest location opened recently at Newport on the Levee.



Urban sprawl has led to some of the saddest architecture in 100 years: strip malls, hulking drive-thru restaurants, neighborhoods begging for sidewalks. This lolling lifestyle can only be identified as quick and easy. Fast food beats cooking. Driving trounces walking. Experimentation loses pace — people stick to what they know.

So what happens when urban sprawl stretches into the art world?

At its inception, THE PENDLETON ARTS CENTER was an inexpensive downtown building that housed diverse local artists' studios. A quiet place, really, open to the public only on Final Fridays and Second Look Saturdays, like the rest of the galleries in the area, to sell and promote their latest endeavors.

Suddenly the Pendleton has gotten fat. It's opened studio houses in Ashland, Ky., and Rising Sun, Ind. Rising Sun is, of course, best known for the casinos and tacky hotels.

The Pendleton artists also run the 5th Street Gallery in Netherland Hilton Hotel downtown. The 5th Street Gallery looks like a gift shop (T-shirts and all) rather than a gallery, and to prove it, it has the Hilton logo stamped right into its own.

Walking through the desolate space that once held (mostly chain) stores in the Tower Place Mall, you'll see Pendleton-branded art in many shop windows. Artists overtaking an abandoned mall has the potential to be great — that is, if the work is great.

But to be frank, it's not. Most everything is oil or acrylic on canvas — abstract color blotches or awkward still lifes. The same regurgitated pattern taught in high school. Most of it is just fine. Not really interesting, not new, not taking the world by storm, but decent, average.

Now a new 8,000-square-foot showroom under the Pendleton marker has opened in the ersatz cityscape known as Newport on the Levee.

I'm no naif. You won't hear me arguing that art and commerce exist in separate spheres. Hardly.

Art is a luxury as well as a commodity. Even the most anti-establishment artists (like the English-born favorite Banksy) sell work in mainstream galleries for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Money is not my point. And I hardly wish to argue that only certain artists should be showing their work. Anyone can make art, even beautiful and elegant art. But few can make it significant.

No, my problem isn't with money or advertising. It's the distension. It's the fact that the Pendleton has turned into a machine rather than a studio structure. And now the lolling lifestyle of urban sprawl — the ease, the acceptance of the known — has reached over into the gallery.

Patrons buy what they already know and hesitate at the new. Artists, then, continue with their fine paintings on canvas because that's what sells.

I suppose it's this way with all the arts, not just the visual ones. Turning on the radio you'll hear the bleached-out bubble-gum tunes, not new sounds by C. Spencer Yeh's Burning Star Core. Bestselling books come in the form of Danielle Steel novels, not Olena Kalytiak Davis poems. Indie films can barely exist within the world of the blockbuster.

Pop music, Danielle Steel novels and blockbuster movies: all have patterns. The listener, reader, watcher knows what to expect, and that feeling is safe and — most of the time — pleasurable. As is finding a painting a lot like your neighbor's painting and hanging it on your wall.

None of this will stop the anachronistic thinker from making new art and new sound, so in a sense it really doesn't matter. But for those of us who live in cul-de-sacs and drive from place to place (myself included), I urge us to consider the possibilities and to remember not everything worth seeing has a convenient parking lot.



CONTACT LAURA JAMES: ljames(at)citybeat.com

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