Portland Museum of Modern Art


On a rainy Saturday afternoon in April, the Portland Art Museum is crowded. Dripping people wait in line to check umbrellas and wet coats. But across town in North Portland, the Portland Museum of Modern Art provides a chance to commune solo with the current show, a collection of abstract works on paper by Richard Tracy.

The PMoMA might be empty, but it’s not quiet. The museum is located in the basement of Mississippi Records. Upstairs, collectors listen to soul music while shopping for vinyl. Breakfast smells from Sweedeedee also waft down into the basement.

So who was ambitious enough to open an art museum and audacious enough to give it such a high-falutin’ name?

Libby Werbel, an artist in her early thirties, opened PMOMA a year ago. After growing up in Portland, she studied art at The College of Santa Fe. Her thesis was an installation. After graduation, she worked in New York for the Whitney Museum of American Art and MoMA PS1. She was in charge of installing shows and safely shipping them back home.


But when she returned to Portland, those skills weren’t in demand. Instead, she turned to waitressing. And somehow found the energy to open PMoMA in her spare time.

Werbel puts up a different show every month, according to her tastes. Past shows have included a collection of cell phone pictures from East Africans, works by 1950s self-taught artist Mr. Otis and art sweaters knitted by Johanna Jackson.


In May, experimental Portland musician Grant Corum will be the featured artist. A trip to Guatemala inspired his mixed media show, which will include an altar, drawings and screen prints. Corum is an archaeology buff and a seeker, so expect ancient artifacts and a hallucinatory feel. Corum’s opening reception is May 18 at 8 p.m. Corum and White Gourd will provide musical entertainment.

While it would be easy to dismiss a museum in a record store basement as another weird Portland ploy, Werbel has managed to attract acclaimed work. Two months after PMoMA displayed Mingering Mike’s fake record covers, the Smithsonian bought them. It doesn’t get much more legit than that.

PMoMA is open noon-7 daily. 5202 N. Albina Ave.

Teresa Bergen writes about health, fitness, travel and the arts. www.teresabergen.com