Motion Study: Theo Downes-Le Guin

Motion Study is a blog series about people, things, and ideas in the arts, design and technology. 

Theo Downes-Le Guin, owner of Upfor in Portland, shares his perspective on the hurdles of running a gallery focused on new and digital media.

Ryan Trecartin. COMMA BOAT. 2013. Installation view.

NAME: Theo Downes-Le Guin

AGE: 50


CITY: Portland, OR


CURRENT OBSESSIONS: Reading to my son under the duvet on quiet mornings, a pair of kelly green Japanese suede pseudo-skate shoes I found online.

PLACE MOST WANT TO VISIT: I had to postpone a trip to Buenos Aires earlier this year, very excited to go next year.

DAILY UNIFORM: I mix it up, but my preview/opening uniform is a light grey suit and tie of limited visual interest that doesn’t compete with the artwork.

PROVISIONS: Pellegrino, Nespresso, BLT from Fuller’s in Portland.

DRINK: I was very happy with drinks involving Aperol this summer; winter will see a return to red and sparkling.

FILM SCENE: The birdseye trip to the moon, cut to landing in the moon’s eye, in Méliès’ Le voyage dans la la lune. 1902–wow.

ART PICKS: Too late now but I was enamored of Chris Burden (New Museum) and Sigmar Polke (MoMA). Shane McAdams’ paintings on polystyrene at Elizabeth Leach in Portland this April had very specific resonance. And I’m really happy with the work I’ve shown in the gallery. I got to watch a couple of hours of Ryan Trecartin before opening hours; that was rather special.

READING LIST: Currently reading David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, also putatively reading Geordie Greig’s Breakfast With Lucian, but I’ve been at it for two months and have lost track of all the lovers and children and perhaps lost interest too.

MUSEUMS: I know it sounds anodyne but I’ve never been in a museum without finding something to interest me; from childhood I have deep connections to the Portland Art Museum and the British Museum; from college, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick; I really like the Mori in Tokyo, the Stedelijk, the Victoria & Albert; Bean Gilsdorf Living History Museum (San Francisco).

LIFE THEME SONG: Empirically (using top 25 most played playlist) iTunes tells me it is currently Breakbot's Baby I’m Yours (feat. Irfane) which I have mixed feelings about admitting.

DESCRIBE THE PORTLAND ART ATMOSPHERE: Portland is the place that, whenever you travel, art world people say “I’ve heard so much about how great it is.” If they’ve visited they generally have more specific but still positive conceptions. So I think we are widely recognized as a good place for artists to live, to make work, to be in a supportive community, but also as a challenging environment in which to make a living as an artist (or gallerist). I think and hope we are at the beginning of a period in which we can stop worrying about provincialism and move forward boldly.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO FOCUS YOUR GALLERY ON NEW MEDIA? I want to highlight work that is truly of our time. While any medium can be of our time, there is a lot going on in digital and new media–both in the making and the subject matter–that is contemporary, topical, political. Also I was (and am) naive about the commercial challenges so I could take a risk.

WHAT HURDLES DO YOU FACE THAT ARE DISTINCT FROM MORE TRADITIONAL GALLERIES? Our business model is fairly traditional even if our program isn’t, so our hurdles are the same as everyone else’s: how can we advance our artists, help collectors and institutions build their collections, in way that is both honorable and profitable? I also spend a lot of time musing about how we can tweak or mess with the traditional gallery model, which I think is partly broken already.

ARE PORTLAND COLLECTORS AND INSTITUTIONS SUPPORTIVE OF NEW MEDIA ART? The institutions are very supportive, more so than in some larger cities. PICA, Disjecta, YU, Portland Art Museum, PNCA and others all have very active interest in showcasing and promoting new media though the focus tends to be on moving image work and performative work. We have very few collectors focused on new media, but proportionately probably the same as in any other city. It’s a challenging area for individual collectors.

WHO ARE FOUR ARTISTS WE SHOULD BE WATCHING? We represent eight artists, and I think you should be watching them all. Our artists have had an impressive year of exhibitions, awards, residencies, performances. To single out two specifics: Ralph Pugay’s paintings are currently in the gallery, and as Betty Bowen Award winner he will have a solo exhibition at Seattle Art Museum opening today (October 16). If you are in Miami in December, we will have a solo presentation of Rodrigo Valenzuela at UNTITLED. Rodrigo recently moved from Seattle to Houston as a Core Fellow at the Glassell School at the Museum of Fine Arts. Today he was named as recipient of the 2014 Artist Trust’s Arts Innovator Award.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR UPFOR? We are edging toward longer (six week) shows starting next year so that we can spend more time planning and give people more opportunities to engage. Last week we introduced an after-hours, storefront video program called Apres-Upfor than plays 6 PM - midnight. We plan to do about three or four fairs in the next twelve months, both US and abroad. And we continue to tweak our online commerce presence with Artsy. I’m very interested in the various cloud services for new media coming out, such as Electric Objects, and I hope we can partner with one of these to experiment with new distribution and sales models.