It’s a slight thing, “Gallery Row” proclaims a City sign on Spring Street, a dozen or so galleries flock around the area newly. Nothing in them, or nearly nothing. No-one can see the great city before them, least of all these artists. It’s a vision of the wasted city indwelt by blind persons and the incidental traveler, something by Keats or Piranesi.
Portland has the quality aimed at over the years, a strange dissociation of the landscape and the city as a careless preserve of suburbia. Oregonians would naturally rather be dead.
It’s not uncommon to see a building effaced with a makeover unless it bears the bronze plaque of the National Register of Historic Places, in which case it’s defaced as far as possible with paint. A hired security guard fends off the homeless and gangsters, and voilà. It’s not novelty that’s sought, it’s ugliness.
Downtown can’t be reproduced. Any part of it that’s lost diminishes the entirety. Going up the State reveals the various stages of decay and collapse in California’s cities. Bakersfield has an Old Town and malls, Fresno is a great archæological record of civic life ending in the Seventies but lingering pointlessly. Modesto is the hyped-up nightmare in its latter day. Sacramento towers above it all, inanity amid squalor writ large.
All of this is most interesting, of course, if you are able to look upon it, as harrowing as it is, and not simply suffer haplessly, and a sight far and away more full of interest than anything just now on offer in the little Downtown art galleries. Four white walls and a set of lights, going nowhere.