AAtop the Portland Art Museum is a welcome explosion of color. The galleries on the fourth floor of the building, historically used as a paint shop then aher showcase for NOTwestern art, have been repainted in shocks of blue and red. NOTlisten to the stairs there is a false roof with neon sneakers sagging on an electric linene; tall windows refract a rainbow on the other side floor.
Since August, the space has housed the Aux / Mute Gallery, the latest in the museum’s partnership with local radio numberz. The two organizations bonded for the first time in 2019, when the station became part of PAM. Hank Willis Thomas exhibition, the organization of workshops and live broadcasts from the exhibition.
That relationship continued through COVID, as the Numberz swelled in size and started outgrowing its cramped XRAY.FM facilities – and not particularly suited to pandemics. “[PAM] was like, ‘Well our galleries are closed,’ ”says DJ Ambush, Numberz de facto head, from the middle of the Aux / Mute gallery. “So we literally settled on the other side of that wall.”
The arrangement echoed a little-known part of MAP history: In 1941, the museum began hosting weekly radio talks from its sculpture garden, which became more comprehensive shows by the middle of the decade. With the support of RACC, Numberz began to rekindle PAM’s radio credit a long time ago by broadcasting interviews with elected officials and mural artists from the 2020 protests, live broadcasts and more.
Eventually, Ambush began pinning artwork around the new studio for inspiration: pieces from friends, a painting of his teenage daughter. “I texted him and I was like, ‘You have art at the Portland Art Museum,'” he recalls. “And she was like, ‘Oh, I guess that’s pretty cool. “” agreed Stephanie Parrish, director of learning and community partnerships at PAM. “Considering the museum’s history with radio and how social practice works, it seemed perfect to me to have the Numberz in space to conserve art and bring the community together. It’s kind of like, duh, ”she said.
In fact, PAM was already preparing to install the A BPortland’s Art Ecology lack, which brings together the large-scale artistic projects of the Black Portlanders, on half of the fourth floor in July 2020 (The Numberz have moved to a private studio one floor below, where they still broadcast). After chatting with Ambush, Parrish handed him the keys to the rest of the space—Black art ecology and Aux / Mute are only separated by a beaded curtain – and in August, Aux / Mute was live, with a show from the Portland artist and shoe designer. Sa’rah Melinda sabino.
Then it was In my skin, a superb series of portraits of a local photographer Jason hill which presents his work for the musician I $$ A and clichés of the Lion King tours cast on their day off at Eugene; Mars will bring a textile-focused show from a New York native Christine Miller. Currently, Aux / Mute is expected to stay in space until June 2022.
The space is also home to a bodega, inspired by the youth corner stores of Ambush’s DC and Philadelphia, which sells exclusive merchandise – candles, t-shirts, jewelry, board games – by local BIPOC artists. It is run by Gayani Ekanayake, a friend that Ambush made on the Philadelphia DJ circuit, and her partner Eric Gordon, both now living in Portland.
The name “Aux / Mute” is a music-centric piece about the relationships that institutions like PAM often have with BIPOC artists: too often “muted,” Ambush hopes to give Portland’s artists of color the proverbial aux. So far, it looks like it’s working. “Honestly, the museum did a really good job of letting us spread our wings,” says Ambush. “We’re a black radio station in America’s whitest city with our own art gallery at the Portland Art Museum. I mean, it is this.”