With E-Z Maze, the laughs on the hardly lost

Charles Goldman's downtown labyrinth makes for short, head-scratching detour

'E-Z Maze (Right Angle)' is a public artwork made of cyclone fencing and plastic Permahedge. It's a 'modern maze' that downtown drones can walk through, and it's the handiwork of Charles Goldman, an artist based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

'E-Z Maze' must be aimed at the dimwitted: You won't get lost as you walk through it. And it takes only a few seconds to navigate.

The posted sign in the gravel lot reads: 'The 'E-Z Maze' system provides all of the benefit of your basic labyrinth Ñ without all of the hassle.' The artist, we've got a hunch, is making a statement about our fast-paced consumer society and need for no-hassle convenience.

The lot, used for temporary works of public art, is sponsored by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the Regional Arts & Culture Council and the Portland Development Commission.

The lot was the scene of some controversy last October: Sculptures placed there Ñ the first in an ongoing series Ñ were destroyed by vandals.

That incident could explain why this rather soulless specimen was chosen by curator Stuart Horodner as the follow-up. 'E-Z Maze' is certainly made of more durable materials, has an air of vengeance to it and doesn't speak to psyches made uneasy by the brink of war.

'It is unlikely that you will get lost,' reads a handout in a box marked INFO, 'but you will have your experience of space and time altered.'

Goldman visited Portland for a few days to oversee the project and gave lectures at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

'E-Z Maze' has a phoned-in feel and has little relation to Ñ nay, contradicts Ñ the romantic decay of the surrounding architecture.

'Often with empty lots you get an OfficeMax or an Office Depot that would rise quickly to fill an empty lot like this,' Goldman says from Brooklyn. 'In this case something Ñ a building Ñ gets torn down, and then there's an 'E-Z Maze' in its place. It's offering the same services as, say, a Jiffy Lube.'

Since there is nary a Target or Subway sandwich shop in sight, it's hard to feel concerned about that happening anytime soon. Downtown Portland, compared with many cities, is mercifully free of such national-chain blight.

So is 'E-Z Maze' luring people with its so-called 'easy' art experience and then slipping them something meatier to chew on?

Best turn to the corporate handbook for that one. It probably will say the customer/consumer is always right.