Oregonian coverage of Hotel Modera Art by Brian Libby

Art at the Hotel Modera

by Brian Libby

Thursday June 05, 2008, 10:44 AM

One of the amenities of the new Hotel Modera is the art. A lot of art.

Local artist William Park had an impressive show of paintings last month at Mark Woolley Gallery called “Life Is Good,” which fused colorful abstraction with wildlife portraiture. But it’s arguable that the acclaimed Park’s best recent work is on view more permanently down the street from Woolley’s space, as part of the dilapidated former Days Inn City Center’s transformation into the chic Hotel Modera.

With its sleek renovation designed by Portland’s much-admired Holst Architecture, the 174-room Modera, at Southwest Fifth Avenue and Clay Street, has become the city’s latest and perhaps most impressive boutique hotel. Along with interior flourishes of marble, stained wood and stylish furniture, the hotel has invested about $150,000 in artworks by local artists for virtually every room and public space on the site, as selected by art adviser Janelle Baglien of Studio Art Direct.

Modera’s lobby is a dramatic open plan with floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking a new courtyard, the latter converted from a parking lot by landscape architects Lango Hansen. Baglien sought a variety of curvy, circular forms in the artworks, be they abstractions or figurative nudes, to counter what she felt was a masculine design with its straight lines and hard surfaces.

The lobby’s centerpiece is Park’s massive 72-by-72-inch painting, “the white album,” a vivid swirl of creamy white plaster. Although it’s a gorgeous work, it’s also no accident the painting’s circular form recalls Hotel Modera’s logo. Baglien gave Park explicit instructions for what to paint.

“Not all artists work well on commission,” says Baglien. “I needed people I could trust.”

Although Baglien recalls Park initially bristling at having instructions, it led to an exceptionally compelling painting.

Park was also commissioned for two other works in the lobby. At first, Baglien felt that a colorful abstract painting near the entrance called “This will look different next time” was too yellow, so its primary wavy form was retouched to become darker, like a warped record album. There is also, on the facing wall, Park’s charcoal sketch of a quite curvy nude woman, “Sienna.” It, too, was made to order.

By the front desk is a multihued print of tree branches by Martha Pfanschmidt called “Traversing Time.” It also adds an organic feel to the clean-lined architecture and interiors. A few feet away are two photos by Stewart Harvey documenting the arrival of Raymond Kaskey’s “Portlandia” statue downtown via boat, before it was hoisted onto a pedestal atop the Portland Building. In Harvey’s black-and-white picture, the statue towers over Waterfront Park; one yearns for it to be returned there for a new permanent home.

The hotel has an inordinate amount of art in the bathroom, too.

Modera is just the latest of several downtown hotels, either new arrivals or renovated existing establishments, to exhibit artwork by local or renowned names. At the hip Ace Hotel on Southwest Stark, for example, Portland artists such as Ryan Jacob Smith painted murals on the walls of rooms. One of the city’s top dealers, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, has often displayed works by its represented artists at two downtown establishments: Hotel Monaco and the Heathman Hotel. The Monaco even has a dog living on the premises named Art.

The venerable Heathman has long displayed its collection of Andy Warhol prints from his “Endangered Species” series in the elevator lobby of each floor, as well as in its adjacent Heathman Restaurant. Although prints admittedly aren’t as valuable as original paintings, there’s far more Warhol in the hotel than you’ll find across the street at the Portland Art Museum. For the former Mallory Hotel’s 2006 changeover into the classic Hollywood-themed Hotel deLuxe, curator Tessa Pappas accessed a collection of old studio photos featuring the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Alfred Hitchcock and Judy Garland.

At Hotel Modera, in addition to established artists like Park, Baglien chose work by a variety of emerging and under-represented artists, particularly photographers, with impressive results. The ground floor, near a series of meeting rooms, includes a series of abstract paintings by Jeni Lee that recall the rusty-hued works of James Lavadour. One floor with a Willamette Valley theme features luminous black-and-white vineyard shots by longtime McMinnville photographer Doreen Wynja.

In these high-contrast shots, vines and leaves backlit with intense sunshine appear to radiate light from within. Another floor of the hotel is devoted to photos by at-risk teens from the nonprofit Focus on Youth Photography Project.

The irony is that if you live in Portland, there’s no reason to be seeing most of the work at Hotel Modera or any of these new generation of local hotels unless the work occupies a prominent part of the lobby. Are these places yuppie havens? Sure.

Even so, these establishments now form a kind of shadow network of exhibit spaces in the city, providing opportunity to countless local artists, be they partial to boutique hotels, Motel 6 or camping. And besides, the former Days Inn has never looked better.

Hotel Modera, 515 S.W. Clay St.; http://www.hotelmodera.com, 503-484-1084.

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