The front window is a preview of what's inside, which is clearly not limited to art on black velvet. Other kitchy treats awaited. The entry area was packed and museum goers jostled for positions to see and to pay the $5 admission fee (cash only, in case you plan on going in the next week). One of the items of note was evidence of a taxidermist with a sense of humor: a stuffed, winged jackalope.
One of our friends asked if it was real. Rather than laughing, I silently bemoaned my lack of such wondrous and somewhat protective naivete. Being jaded is kind of a joy-killer.
Before going into the storefront museum proper, there was a painting on display with a challenge:guess who it is and win a prize. Maybe it's my age or an eye for faded icons, but I knew instantly, the painting's subject was (supposed to be) Englebert Humperdink. I won! The prize was one of their many postcards of the featured art. I reserved my choice until I went through the museum. I didn't want to be hasty.
Inside was also pretty crowded. Serious connoisseurs of lowbrow art, or just some folks who, like me, wanted to say they got there and checked it out before the tent came down and it travelled south. There was a wall of unicorns— the "Unicornacopia." A collection of "exotic" African-American nudes (more African than American, perhaps because they were dated and possessed a sense of Black Power. They were displayed among portraits of Malcom and Martin, Snoop Dogg and Sammy Davis Jr. There was even a black Jesus based on Sammy's distinctive profile. There was a wall of Michael Jackson--rendered well and not so much--of the king of pop when he was one of the Jackson 5 and when he hung out with Bubbles, the chimp. There were paintings of clowns that were mostly scary, along with really creepy paintings of kids, and, of course, nudes-some quite beautifully rendered, and others strangely stylized, with conical nipples and disproportionate features. For some reason, there seems to be a sub-genre of Hawaiian nudes and semi-nudes-- beautiful Amerasian women on a beach or in a jungle setting, with leis or low slung, flowery sarongs. There were political and topical portraits: Nixon and W, Obama (that looked a bit like a black Alfred E. Newman) and one of Dr. Jack Kevorkian (weird!!!). And last but not least, there were paintings of Jesus and Elvis-- both separately and together.
Jesus and Elvis, by Greg Brown
Jesus had some water, said "Wine'd be better yet".
Elvis picked up a guitar and made all women wet.
Elvis he died young - Jesus he died younger.
Elvis died of too much - Jesus died of hunger.
Jesus sang down through the ages:
"Do like you'd have'em do you".
Elvis rocked the universe with be-bop-a-lu-la -lu
Now here they are on black velvet, in a parking lot in Missouri -
rocking my soul with rock'n'roll, soulful harmony.
Jesus went back to heaven to be the King of Kings,
but I hear the King of Rock'n'Roll is still restlessly roaming.
Go on home to Jesus, El - he's waiting there you'll find.
You two can jam on old gospel songs - them are the best kind.
Before leaving, I picked out my prize (a nude by the artist, Behan) and chatted with Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin, owners of the museum. Caren rolled her eyes when I brought up the quote from the article in the Oregonian about her wanting to move back to Southern California because of the diversity. She said that was taken out of context and not exactly what she said. Still, they're heading south... for whatever reason. At this point, she wants to relocated in Ventura, which she admitted is not all that weird. Carl had said that a few of his friends have suggested Long Beach, which, to me, makes much more sense. But no one is asking me. Overall, I'm glad I went and sorry that Portland can hold onto some of the Southern Californians who emigrate, thinking the promise of the Northwest is greater than the dismal weather and the somewhat provincial attitudes.
The experience, the article in the paper and my conversation with Caren and Carl lead me to ask: Have I fallen out of love with Oregon?
The winter is not the best time to ask me. But no, not entirely. It still holds promise, and there is a lot of it I have yet to see. In other words, the jury is still out and nothing is forever.