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TriMet pulls plug on MAX station 'living room'

Five years ago, Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis grew so disgusted by the crime, litter and fights that centered around an art display at a Gresham MAX station, he called for TriMet to remove it.

This week, TriMet officials announced they were pulling the plug on the living-room themed display complete with television, couch and rug.

“The ‘living room’ at the Gresham Central Transit Center had clearly ceased to be ‘livable’ by any stretch of the imagination,” Bemis said. “I’m very thankful to our TriMet board member, Travis Stovall, and TriMet Director Neil McFarlane for removing this installation. Together, they brought a fresh perspective and willingness to work with us that we did not encounter when we asked to see this problem area addressed years ago.”

At the end of the month, TriMet will remove the display located at Northeast Eighth Street and Kelly Avenue, said Mary Fetsch, TriMet spokeswoman.

“While the sculptural installation of mixed media ‘living room furniture’ was intended to enhance the area and be a place for riders to wait for buses and MAX, it has become a concern for nuisance behavior and loitering,” Fetsch said. “The artwork will be returned to the artist.”

TriMet commissioned artist Tamsie Ringler, a Mt. Hood Community College art instructor and former Sandy resident, to create the work, which was installed in 2001.

The $25,000 display is centered around a 13-foot mosaic rug, with a bronze television, concrete sofa and armchair, plus a coffee table and steel floor lamp. The lamp and cast-glass screen of the console TV were to provide lighting at night.

In the wake of high-profile violent crimes at the transit center, Bemis in September 2008 asked TriMet to remove the display because the activity it attracted was out of hand.

The problem went beyond discarded cigarette butts.

A 71-year-old Sandy man was nearly beaten to death with a baseball bat at the station in late 2007. The attack happened the day after Bemis announced that Gresham police would begin patroling MAX trains running through the city because coverage by TriMet’s Transit Police Division was inadequate.

TriMet, however, refused to remove the living room, saying the art needed to be in place for at least 10 years or damaged beyond repair before such “deaccession” could be considered.

It seems the latter might have swayed the agency. After becoming “physically degraded,” the piece was restored in 2010, Fetsch said. Three years later, it is again in disrepair “and the plaza area remains a concern,” she added.

The installation can’t be easily removed and relocated because the mosaic rug that the living room is build around is embedded in concrete. But Ringler, who is now a sculpture instructor at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., has agreed to allow her work to be dismantled.

TriMet will return the “furniture” to her while leaving the mosaic in place.



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