was a center for contemporary art in Southeast Portland, Oregon. It was led by a desire to support artists, propose new modes of production, and stimulate the ongoing public discourse around art. This website serves as an archive of Yale Union’s programming from 2011 through 2021.

Yale Union acknowledges that it occupies the traditional lands of the Multnomah, Chinook, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla, and other Indigenous peoples.


Selections from the PCVA Archive
May 7–July 30, 2011

There are biological parents and adoptive parents, and there are appropriated parents—artistic or intellectual—as instrumental in your development as any other, or more so because they are selected by you. It is in that vein that we tell you: The Portland Center for the Visual Arts is our parent. Like any filial relationship, one can’t exactly remember becoming aware of the parent as someone other than a parent, i.e., the notion of PCVA as not just our progenitor, but a place, not just a place, but a memory, not just a memory, but a complicated case—talk about the anxiety of influence, this is literally about how one place makes another.

This exhibition, the first ever show about the history of PCVA, will be largely ephemeral, and the goal, if we can be so crude, is to bypass patricide and discuss what the parent did, how the parent behaved, and how the parent paid the bills.

Founded in 1971 by artists Jay Backstrand, Mel Katz, and Michele Russo, PCVA brought seminal contemporary art to 117 NW Fifth Avenue between 1972-87. Mary Beebe became the director in 1973 and during her prolific tenure exhibited Michael Asher, Allan Kaprow, John Baldessari, Vito Acconci, William Wegman, Joan Jonas, Dan Flavin, Robert Smithson, Terry Riley, Eleanor Antin, Phil Niblock, Nam Jun Paik, Robert Irwin, Meredith Monk, and Bruce Nauman, along with numerous Northwest artists. Many of the works, epistles, and internal documents are lent by the Portland Art Museum’s Crumpacker Family Library, which has housed the PCVA archive since 1988.

The opening reception will include a screening of Richard Serra’s Railroad Turnbridge (1976), which was filmed at the St. Johns Railroad Bridge in Portland.

YU wishes to thank Hope Svenson, Sandra Percival, Lisa Radon and the lenders to the exhibition: Portland Art Museum Crumpacker Family Library, Randal Davis, Joseph Erceg, Brian Foulkes and Fernanda D’Agostino, William Hoppe, Christopher Rauschenberg, Stephanie Snyder, Michael Stirling, Paul Sutinen, and Seth Tane.

Plan view of exhibition vitrines, 2011

Two links: a selection of correspondences between the institution and artists (PDF) and a recording of Meredith Monk performing Meredith Monk at the PCVA in 1984 (MP3).

“If what we know generically as serious modern art outlives the seventies—survives final corruption by the orthodox gallery-museum complex, survives the temptation to rejoin “relevance” by abandoning quality and invention—a good part of the reason is going to be the American kunsthalle movement. These places have evolved through an increasing need by contemporary artists to be exposed in circumstances a little more philosophical and a little less marketable than a commercial gallery but without the ponderous weight of “authentication” of a collecting museum. The American kunsthalles focus rather on exhibiting. Most don’t flirt with the architecture of officialdom, either; they remodel space in existing buildings or, if there is an edifice, austerely throw a shell around some decent cubic footage, foregoing auditoria, reflecting pools, colonnades, and bronze plaques….

The Portland Center for the Visual Arts is among the best; the shows (Tworkov, Benglis, Stella, Neel, Serra, etc.) have been uniformly first-rate, the attendance (12,000 yearly) substantial, and the interaction among artists, management, and the community considerable. (I lectured at PCVA once, with Ed Moses, and two things stick with me: the beautiful space—elegant, ample, but unpretentious—and the inquisitive, even argumentative capacity crowd.) And PCVA might well end up being the most important. Portland, on “feel,” is a progressive, literate, good-hearted city; it’s the kind of town where contemporary art might take hold to a degree beyond merely meeting per capita projections derived downward from New York or Los Angeles. Jack Tworkov went as far as to say that the “energy” around PCVA and Portland equaled the kind of community involvement with artists in New York during the germinal thirties, and every artist I’ve ever talked to who’s had work at PCVA has nothing but praise for the way it’s run and what it stands for. If all this sounds a little florid, it’s a disease of art writing when one finds something about which to be enthusiastic; if it sounds a little tentative, it’s because there’s still quite a bit to be done to get the spirit of PCVA to infect the rest of the region; and if it sounds a little chauvinist, that’s because it is.”

Peter Plagens, the west coast editor of Artforum, circa 1980