Elizabeth Leach Gallery Creates ‘Sustainable’ Arts Community Rooted In Portland, Oregon, With A Worldly Gaze

Ann Hamilton carved out a block of printed text with switchback lines and extracted it from the page in a continuous line to transfigure a book into a three-dimensional orb. Hamilton originally performed the painstaking process for her installation lineament (1993) and recreated it a year later to publish (lineament · book/ball) as an edition.

The term lineament affirms the intrinsic bond between arts and sciences, even as our society and culture (from academia to everyday life governed by powers of control) seeks to divide the two disciplines. In geology, lineament refers to a linear feature on the earth’s surface, such as a fault, while literary usage refers to a distinctive facial feature or characteristic. Making the connection underscores how art and science are both about observation and interpretation, and how they inform each other to help us better navigate life’s journey.

Hamilton’s three-dimensional sphere evokes the earth, drawing us into an inquiry about science as well as the remnants of a literary object. Transforming the book, once used to ascertain information and insight from the words, now provokes a narrative about lineament and what this new form teaches us or how it makes us feel.

An image of (lineament · book/ball) is aptly featured in a new book, Forty Years: Elizabeth Leach Gallery, a comprehensive insider view of art exhibitions, artistic breakthroughs, and community connections chronicling the downtown Portland, Oregon, gallery founded by the then-24-year-old trailblazing entrepreneur. The work speaks to the fungibility of Leach’s evolving career and her footprint in the fine art world. It invites inquiry into an array of themes surrounding creators, processes, and practices, including how we define sustainability.

A ubiquitous buzzword that loosely means satisfying the needs of current generations without squandering the needs of future generations while achieving an equilibrium between economic growth, ecological care, and social welfare, sustainability is open to broader interpretation for the art world. While many artists focus on the specific goals related to environmental concerns, a recent conversation with Leach in New York inspired me to think about how she exemplifies the concept as it pertains to art and community. When applied thoughtfully, the term is vital to our understanding of every aspect of life. Leach shared with me the details of her far-reaching efforts to engage the community in the arts at many levels, and to ensure that art and community thrive, co-exist, and look to the future. This is sustainability in action, not just empty theory or obligatory corporate chatter.

Established in 1981, Elizabeth Leach Gallery has evolved into a widely regarded cultural force showcasing a mix of regional shows with prints and unique works by nationally-known artists. Instrumental in amplifying the local scene, it was the first Portland gallery to participate in global art fairs. Works by Leach-represented artists have been shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art, both in New York, Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and the Venice Biennale.

Leach understood early on that involving the business community was fundamental to the gallery’s success and ongoing commitment to encouraging arts participation.

“Using my knowledge of business that I learned from my dad at the dining room table and my passion for art, really convinced me to open the gallery. My mission has always been to bring in national and international artists. And then I met all these regional artists and really good artists. I feel very satisfied,” said Leach. “The business community was really strong in creating an avenue for making more art opportunities, and then I had this arts caucus, which was about getting arts on the city council’s agenda, which were so successful, the whole government bureaucracy got involved and kind of killed it.”

If you’re in the area, go see Jeremy Okai Davis’ figurative paintings which depict Black people in sports and academia with an atmospheric style that explores vintage photography and portraiture. On view through October 29, the exhibition, A Good Sport, demonstrates Leach’s commitment to broadening the reach of artists practicing locally and embracing diverse representation. From the start, Leach has made great strides to recognize and promote Native American artists.

Coming full circle with an artist Leach has represented since 2013, the next exhibition is Ann Hamilton, SENSE, opening November 3 with an artist talk at the gallery, on view through December 30.

Leach’s enduring impact is most evident through Converge 45, a nonprofit organization founded by a coalition of arts professionals and business leaders in Portland, to provide a curatorial platform for the visual arts in the city and the surrounding region. The pioneering spirit of Leach, a past chairwoman and current board member, is imbued in this organization which provides annual programming on contemporary art exploring national and international themes and led by a guest artistic director in collaboration with cultural partners.

There’s always been an urgency to get new programs started, but with the long-term goal of maintaining the momentum. The term converge, which denotes tending or moving toward one point or one another, coming together, uniting in a common interest or focus, and approaching a limit as the number of terms increases without limit, connotes so much more in terms of Leach’s roadmap.

“We started the Converge conversation in about 2014, and in 2015 I had a patron, who said ‘you have to do something, you have to do something this year. I’m like, ‘oh, my God, OK!’,” Leach recalled with laughter. “We decided to have a lot of collectors come in. The first year we did it with 25 projects during a four-day event. We did this giant beautiful installation with Ann Hamilton then we had Kristy Edmunds (now director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art or MASS MoCA) as a curator. She’s great. She had an amazing program. Then COVID basically smashed it. Now we have (Brooklyn-based curator and writer) Christian Viveros-Fauné and a great expanded program.”

Among the myriad offerings of Converge 45, Irish-born, U.S.-based photographic artist Richard Mosse will lecture on climate change on November 12, at 2 p.m. at the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium. Mosse and his team spent years documenting environmental atrocities in the Amazon Basin and related ecosystems. His multi-channel, immersive film and video installation, Broken Spectre, seeks to portray the climate crisis through a visual, aural, and conceptual lens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous post Titleist Brings New Drivers To The Course
Next post Where To Find The Country’s Best Hotel Burgers