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Exhibition at the Portland Art Museum offers a retrospective look at the work of John Yeon
Few architects have influenced so many facets of a region as John Yeon (1910-1994). Yeon is most widely remembered as an architect, in particular for a series of innovative houses—most prominently, the 1937 Aubrey Watzek House—that drew an international spotlight to regional modernism in the Pacific Northwest.


PORTLAND, ORE.- The Portland Art Museum presents Quest for Beauty: The Architecture, Landscapes, and Collections of John Yeon, a retrospective look at the work and deep legacy of an influential Oregon architect. Celebrated by the Museum of Modern Art as a young architect, John Yeon also became a respected art collector and a conservationist who left his mark by shaping and preserving some of the Northwest’s most treasured natural vistas. The exhibition of Yeon’s designs and collections opens May 13, 2017.

Few architects have influenced so many facets of a region as John Yeon (1910-1994). Yeon is most widely remembered as an architect, in particular for a series of innovative houses—most prominently, the 1937 Aubrey Watzek House—that drew an international spotlight to regional modernism in the Pacific Northwest.

Yet Yeon had equal vision and influence as a planner, conservationist, historic preservationist, urban activist, and, perhaps most of all, connoisseur of elegance and craft. Largely self-taught, and working independently, Yeon designed distinctive buildings, shaped precedent-stretching gardens, and fought to preserve some of the Northwest’s most treasured vistas—the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast, Olympic National Park.

In addition, he amassed a highly personal collection of Asian and European decorative arts. Yeon once compared his attitude toward architecture to that of a “landscape painter imagining what would look good in his landscape painting.” The primacy of the visual—the quest for beauty—applied to Yeon’s every pursuit.

Developed with the University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape, Quest for Beauty’s architecture and landscape section surveys two dozen projects and buildings designed between 1927 and the mid-‘50s, including a dynamic 1934 scheme for Timberline Lodge; Yeon’s inventive plywood houses of the late ‘30s; and the 1950 Shaw House, which elegantly anticipates the stylistic eclecticism of Postmodernism. The exhibition features original models and drawings, along with images by a trio of the midcentury’s greatest architectural photographers: Ezra Stoller, Maynard Parker, and Roger Sturtevant. Newly developed models and axonometric drawings will invite a greater understanding of Yeon’s careful siting of buildings and his cutting-edge construction and sustainable design techniques. A high-definition time-lapse video records the changing seasons at The Shire, the stunning 78-acre preserve in the Columbia Gorge that Yeon saved from development and shaped into a unique landscape with a series of vistas of Multnomah Falls.

The exhibition features a wide selection of art, decorative arts and historic materials lent by Richard Louis Brown, who founded the Yeon Center in 1995 with his gift of the Watzek House to the University of Oregon. Yeon’s interests as a collector encompassed a range of materials from distant times and places, with concentrations of Chinese furniture and ceramics, Korean ceramics, Japanese screen paintings, Japanese lacquers and ceramics, and Indian miniature paintings, as well as European decorative arts of the 18th century. He had a keen sense of quality and an eye for detail, and he moved effortlessly across scale and scope, finding delight equally in small objects and vast vistas.

Together the buildings, landscapes, art, furniture, and objects showcase a restless eye and mind that could absorb the lessons of centuries of Asian and European art while developing an original vision for the Pacific Northwest.

“Quest for Beauty celebrates an iconic individual from our beloved state,” said Brian Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Director and Chief Curator of the Portland Art Museum. “John Yeon was an acclaimed architect, conservationist, art connoisseur and collector who was deeply influential in shaping not only this region, but also a larger sphere of institutions and individuals from New York to Kansas City to San Francisco through his architecture, museum installation designs, and collecting focus and philosophy.”

Quest for Beauty is accompanied by two books published by the Yeon Center with Andrea Monfried Editions, John Yeon: Architecture and John Yeon: Landscape. The Museum is presenting a variety of public programs and tours in conjunction with the exhibition, including an opening lecture by distinguished curator and architecture scholar Barry Bergdoll; Richard Louis Brown’s personal recollections of Yeon; indepth talks by exhibition curators and visiting scholars; and more.

Organized by Portland Art Museum and curated by Randy Gragg, executive director of the University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape. Collection exhibition curated by Maribeth Graybill, Ph.D., The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art, and Dawson W. Carr, Ph.D., The Janet and Richard Geary Curator of European Art.





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May 13, 2017

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