The Portland Museum of Art & Sports was located at Portland State University’s Rec Center. An institution within an institution, the museum was founded in 2015 as a dynamic space dedicated to the exploration of two subjects that are rarely paired together: contemporary art and recreational sports. Through installations, events and programming that showcased local to international artists the museum explored unconventional situations for engagement to activate the spaces where art and sports intersect. Anke Schüttler and Lauren Moran, the founders and curators of the museum, reflect on the process of bridging divides, pitching art projects, and recreation in art.
Photos by Anke Schüttler
Lauren: We were talking about recreation.
Anke: Yes, I realized that both sports and art can be seen as a means of recreation.
Lauren: For most people, yeah.
Anke: It’s funny because when we were thinking about this museum we were saying sport and arts do not really go together so well or they are usually not seen together, though there is this connection that I actually have never thought about before. And also ironically when we were talking about doing this project at the rec center, we were both saying ‘I’m not exercising a lot at the moment and maybe that’ll get me into exercising more’ and then we actually never got to it really.
Lauren: Yeah, we were so busy working on all the projects and installing all the art and working with all the people at the rec center that we left out the recreation part.
Anke: The fun part… I mean it was also fun to do the project obviously. Earlier I was asking you about your relationship to art and if you would think that art is a form of recreation for you?
Lauren: When you said that it made me think of how it’s probably just as likely to be a famous artist as it is to be a pro sports athlete. They’re probably both as rare, but I’m sure athletes make more money.
Anke: And also probably they wouldn’t say “yes, I do sports for my recreation.”
Lauren: I would do art for my recreation. Right now I don’t think I would do social practice art for my recreation. My recreational art is making things out of clay.
Anke: Oh, yeah. Me, too. Thanks for reminding me!
Lauren: Forms of art I find relaxing are not the kind that I do for my work lately. It’s a little too much like a real job now. I actually started off this year thinking about this topic, maybe recreation or our discussion last year about what you would do for fun and how you could make it into a project? When I did the karaoke project here, or a walk in the woods, various things, sometimes it started to feel like work and I’ve been contemplating that. It was fun, it just felt like the expectations were different … And also I wasn’t consuming it. I was creating the experience, which is a lot more work.
Lauren: Anyway, exercise and sports is something I was always an observer of and that continued with our project. We were looking at it through this conceptual lens.
Anke: I really liked how this serendipitously came together, being offered the residency at the Rec Center. We went to have a look at what we could do there and while walking around you pointed out how this looks like a museum building-
Lauren: Right, it felt like a museum tour.
Anke: Yeah. I really liked that and ever since you said that I thought “for sure, there are so many aspects to that building that have a similarity to a museum.”
Anke: The concrete walls and all the coloring.
Lauren: I wonder if a sports person would go to an art museum and be like ‘oh, you could really play basketball in here.’
Anke: That’s such a funny idea, yeah.
Lauren: It’s interesting to come at non art things from that lens of everything is you know-
Anke: An art space.
Anke: I definitely have that lens a lot and I really love that.
Lauren: Me, too. So that’s how it started. We took the tour and we were like “Oh yeah, this is like a museum tour. What if we make it into a museum?” And then we-
Anke: Slowly took it over.
Lauren: Slowly developed these personas, right?
Anke: Yes, thinking about our role and deciding that we were both co-directors and co-curators for the museum. And when I started having that as my signature in my email people from Germany were like “What? You’re a director of a museum now? That’s so cool.’ I really love how that took this extra turn that I didn’t expect at all.
Lauren: I remember Harrell even saying, “you know, PSU doesn’t have a museum yet. Now it’s getting one, I guess.”
Lauren: So we were really asking what do we do as museum directors and curators … in this museum that we just decided was a museum?
Anke: Yeah, and finding all the artists was fun, thinking about the artists we know that work in that intersection between art and sports. It’s exciting how many things we found and so many different, very diverse works.
Lauren: Right, at first we thought these topics don’t have a lot of overlap, but then we found so many overlaps.
Anke: I really enjoyed when we were taking care of where the art would be, relating the art to the space. That’s a thing that you can’t do in a museum because the museum is just empty and without any personality before you put the art in, and I think that made this project so strong for me.
Lauren: Yeah, yeah.
Anke: Like putting the work that Adam Carlin did about lifting heavy things into the weight lifting room or –
Lauren: The videos with the ping pong balls with the ping pong table. That’s a good point. If it was just a regular museum we wouldn’t be able to make those connections at all.
Anke: And then some people got really into it even though they’re maybe usually not into art or wouldn’t go to a museum, but suddenly they got really excited about the work being at the rec center.
Lauren: I think that happened a lot. With the art and the context, I think it worked both ways. Sometimes we asked:’What can we fit into the space?’ and then sometimes we would find the artist and decide:’ this art would fit perfectly here’.
I think about how combining the two things or maybe inserting the art and deciding it was a museum in a non art space, when we gave the tour it just had this amazing sense of magical realism, you know? That was really special. I always try to seek that out in projects and that was one of the times I feel like it was really successful. Especially with the water dancers in the pool…
Anke: Or the runners…
Lauren: Yeah, with the treadmill pieces.
Anke: Yeah, the treadmill pieces were amazing.
Lauren: And just everyone being active in the space, doing their thing at the gym.
Anke: Activating it so nicely without the intention of activating it. That was very magical.
Lauren: There was definitely just a magic to that that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I feel like I learned a lot from.
Anke: I guess it goes both ways, right? Because it’s an already active space, the running would happen with or without the art, but it’s funny when then you have someone coming in for the art and wanting to look at the art, and they obviously also have to look at the runner in front of the art. Suddenly you end up with this combination of something that’s intended to be art and something that’s just an everyday life activity but in that context you cannot separate it from the rest. You cannot not see the runner in front of the art.
Lauren: So it just becomes all part of the experience.
Anke: It’s sort of like we were seeking out the side noise, which in more traditional art is usually excluded, right?
Lauren: That’s interesting because if all the stuff had just been in a blank space it would have been way less interesting. It needed the people around it to be fully experienced really. It just needed the place itself.
Lauren: This is a different topic, but something that I really liked about the project that I’ve thought about ever since is how we worked with really famous artists who are internationally recognized, like Hank Willis Thomas for example, and actually, officially got permission from him to recreate that exhibition. But then we also worked with local artists. We worked with students at PSU. We worked with people that we met in the Rec Center that happened to have some sort of connection to art or wanted to try something out. Like Konani with her body drawings. She just wanted to try that and we made it happen. We had this complete collapsing of art world hierarchies where we were mixing all these things together, which is something I always try to think about, too: collapsing the hierarchies or questioning hierarchies of cultural capital. Also the people looking at the art in the Rec Center who are there maybe they know about art, but maybe they saw it all as the same. Probably not that many people knew who Hank Willis Thomas was. That’s more of an art world context and in the Rec Center the artists were on a whole different playing field with a different audience. I appreciated that combination of a range of different artists being put on the same level.
Anke: Which probably not all artists would like or agree with, but I can relate to that idea and have been experimenting with that a lot in more recent projects, too. It wasn’t something that I was thinking about in that moment as much, but now that you point that out it becomes very clear to me that that’s maybe the first project where that just happened.
Lauren: Yeah, same. I don’t think we were doing it intentionally at the time. I think we were just trying to find whoever we could in all different capacities that was related to sports. Also wanting to work with the people in the space as part of the residency. It kind of just came all together naturally, which is cool.
Anke: Totally. Do you want to talk about how this project influenced you?
Lauren: I think it was one of the first times I had to pitch art to a non art institution and audience. Which is something I’ve engaged in since then and it’s always an interesting challenge to convey a conceptual art idea or to make sure it works on all the different entry points, of how people can access it. You can be an art person and appreciate it and you can not know anything about art and appreciate it. Navigating those conversations with all the people we worked with at the Rec Center, convincing them of certain things that maybe they didn’t fully understand or us just not thinking of things that were important to them in those negotiations was educational. When we had the Museum logo and they wanted to put the PSU logo on it and we had to say no. Or when we wanted to put all this controversial art in the lockers and they said ‘well, you know, you really gotta think about people just opening their locker and wanting to have a recreation moment and then maybe they don’t want to see really shocking art about racism’, which is fair.
Anke: Yeah, that was one of the first projects that we did while being in the program and you saying that makes me realize how much more I’ve been thinking about interaction with the people that I’m working with or working for in my projects since. I think we had a long phase of being on the nerves and frustrated, wondering how we could navigate the situation working with all these people or make everyone happy. We were less attuned to talk to a person and listen to what they want. Also somehow there was this clash between us being artists and them coming from the sports side and a funny misunderstanding about aesthetics. Having very, very different aesthetics often was problematic. We wanted things to look contemporary.
Lauren: We didn’t want it to look like an advertisement for the Rec Center. Even if there was a lot of crossover, I think we were still having different intentions within our institutions. Not in a bad way, just coming from different worlds.
Anke: We had another magical moment when we were doing this participatory piece where we were asking people to write notes about crying in sports and so many people were excited and responded to the prompt.
Lauren: Oh yeah, that was amazing.
Anke: Which seems so unusual, and made us realize: ‘Something that really works here are participatory projects.’
Lauren: There was always the question: ‘is it gonna work?’ The crying in sports project got us started. It was a very encouraging start because we got so many good submissions.
Lauren: What influenced you about the project?
Anke: I feel like I’ve done other projects a little bit like this before where I would be in a non art space, inserting art that’s related to the space. But I think it was the first project where that was really clear and really intentional. We’ve talked about this in the beginning. That was one of the parts that I enjoyed a lot and have been thinking more about since, it has been one of the main aspects of that project that worked well for me. And the activation part is interesting to me. I like that we had scores for people to activate and it really depends on the space whether you can do something like that or not.
Lauren: I liked the project when we asked people what reminded them of art. You could do that anywhere and it’d be great.
Anke: Yeah. It’s funny because it’s very related to us noticing that this space reminds us of a container for art.
Lauren: Right and actually it’s interesting because that was the last project we did so we really brought it back around.
Anke: Oh, I never thought about it that way.
Lauren: I didn’t either.
Anke: That’s a cool thought. Going for a loop.
The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a bi-annual publication dedicated to supporting, documenting, and contextualizing socially engaged art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal focuses on a different theme in order to take a deep look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions, and the public. The Journal seeks to support writing and web based projects that offer documentation, critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.
The SoFA Journal is published in print and PDF form twice a year, in June and December by the PSU Art & Social Practice Program. In addition to the print publication, the Journal hosts an online platform for ongoing projects.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program