Elizabeth Leach answered some of Daniel House’s questions about her must-see gallery located in the Pearl.
Can you tell us a little about the history of the gallery and the arts scene in Portland when you opened in 1981?
There were probably only three other galleries in the city at that time! I already had some art connections in Los Angeles, New York, and Paris, and along with my former husband, Richard Gruetter, I started this venture with the intention of showing internationally renowned artists including Francisco Clemente, Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Tobey, and others.
Once the gallery opened, I discovered some extraordinary artists living in the Pacific Northwest, including sculptor Lee Kelly. It became important for me to focus on providing exposure for the artists in the region while simultaneously highlighting important national and international artists. It’s my goal to increase awareness and promote conversation about contemporary art!
Can you tell us a little about your current roster of artists?
I’m so proud to represent regional and nationally established artists who work with diverse mediums and styles ranging from conceptual and minimal to figurative, landscape and abstract. There really is something for every taste; from the beautiful lush paintings of Stephen Hayes, recent recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship (whose work can be seen at South Park restaurant and in the Multnomah Athletic Club) to the more conceptual work of light artist Hap Tivey (also at South Park) and room-scaled installations by MK Guth.
We’re always excited to work with collectors, consultants and designers to place work. We just recently finished the project of selecting and installing artwork in the new Canopy by Hilton Hotel next door to the gallery. A stunning large scale installation in the Hotel’s Winter Garden is Sean Healy’s Flight Pattern, which depicts the local phenomena of swifts swirling in a black mass to descend into a chimney.
I work with individuals in the role of private art consultant. We take people on trips to look at art and help them define their taste. It’s a lot of fun and our clients find our guidance demystifies the art world.
Recently, we’ve had the pleasure of siting three major outdoor Lee Kelly sculptures at the breathtakingly beautiful winery in Yamhill, Saffron Fields.
How do you engage outside the physical gallery space?
The gallery participates in international and national art fairs throughout the year while maintaining a rigorous exhibition schedule of monthly shows in the gallery space. Art fairs have included Cologne, Germany, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, and Seattle, and they’re a wonderful way to create exposure for the artists. I’m always thinking about new ways to connect with regional, national and international communities.
Civic-mindedness also keeps me engaged locally and I serve on numerous boards of arts organizations. I’m the founding chair of Converge 45, a city-wide arts event in Portland, Oregon, which has brought an Ann Hamilton installation, habitus, to Centennial Mills this summer. I’ve served on the boards of the Pacific Northwest College of Art, Architectural Foundation of Oregon, Seattle Art Fair Advisory Committee, Bonnie Bronson Fellowship, and the Contemporary Art Council of the Portland Art Museum. I’m a founding member and have served on the boards of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts and the Business for Culture and the Arts.
In 2003 I founded the Portland Art Dealers Association, which today counts eleven galleries as members. Additionally, the gallery is a member of the Art Dealers Association of America, a professional organization of the nation’s leading galleries based in New York City.
What keeps you excited and engaged?
For me, it’s always been about highlighting and elevating the arts. I consider myself an advocate inside and outside the gallery and have created innumerable relationships that began with simple conversations. Educating and engaging individuals has always been important to me!
I’ve always been drawn to ambitious, large-scale projects and we’ve been lucky to collaborate with business owners, private collectors, designers and architects to enhance spaces with unique and meaningful artworks. We were able to purchase all of the art for the Heathman Hotel in 1984 - that was fabulous! And until recently we were curating shows for the offices of a business in five cities! We work globally and love it.
How do you think the Portland arts scene has evolved and what is most exciting to you at the moment?
Art organizations are always thinking about how to reach and connect with new audiences. I think it’s about inclusivity. A lot of people are seeking art experiences. Citywide activations, like Converge 45, inspire them to see and experience a wide range of art in different settings. Portland is also fortunate in that many of the galleries in the Pearl own their own spaces and are in walking distance from each other.
The aesthetic in Portland is mostly about hands-on craftsmanship, hands-on making. There is also a very strong social practice program in the region, but I would say that the making - whether it is sculpture, installation or performance - is incredibly important to the artists.
There is also a lot of space out here and there is a desire to explore untraditional options and opportunities that stretch the urban boundary. I would say that’s another thing—space plays into the Portland aesthetic.
What is on the horizon for the gallery?
Our current exhibition is Isaac Layman Never Was A Thing Photographic contributions, through December 29. We will open shows of Kavin Buck Temporary Remians Inescapable End and Light on the Wall: The Last Works of Deborah Horrell (1953-2018) January 3 – Febrary 2, 2019. We’re already preparing for our participation in several national art fairs.
Additionally, my team and I are excited to celebrate the Gallery’s 40th anniversary in 2020. My dedicated staff includes Gallery Director Daniel Peabody who has been here 12 years, my daughter and Managing Director, Gwendolyn Schrader, who has worked here the last 9 years, Assistant Director Ellen Dean and preparator Jonathan Swanson, who along with Ona Nowina-Sapinski work very hard to represent our artists and assist our clients in finding art that they love for all of their various needs and projects. Travel and looking at art is always on my radar!