In 2008, the Portland arts community suffered a number of major losses. Gallerist Laurel Gitlen moved small A projects—and her consistently challenging, sorely missed programming—to New York City. (Luckily, Fourteen30 Contemporary has opened in the space with an impressive string of shows, helping to fill the void.) Tilt Gallery and Project Space closed its doors after a run of memorably brainy shows. Most tragic of all was the passing of Portland Art Museum curator of photography Terry Toedtemeier, who collapsed in Hood River earlier this month, after a presentation on the wonderful Wild Beauty exhibit. In spite of those losses, here are a few of last year's highlights in Portland art. JOHN MOTLEY
Contemporary Northwest Art Awards
By far the most controversial show of the year, the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards effectively replaced the Oregon Biennial—but in its inaugural year, only one of the five regional artists selected was from Oregon (Marie Watt). And while the Portland Art Museum certainly seemed to ignore local talent for Washingtonians, the high quality of the show itself shouldn't suffer the same neglect. If nothing else, it managed to get the Washougal, Washington-based international artist Dan Attoe's work seen by Portlanders. And while there seemed to be a mild uproar over the $10,000 Arlene Schnitzer Prize going to Seattleite Whiting Tennis, there's something quintessentially Northwest about his dreary paintings of houses and buildings that exist somewhere in between the urban and the rural.
Local photographer Holly Andres' new body of work, Sparrow Lane, showed a significant leap from her previous, semi-autobiographical Stories from a Short Street. Focusing on a group of young girls who snoop around a majestic estate, Andres telegraphs the girls' sexual awakening through their insistent searching and a sensuous palette of blood reds, emerald greens, and robin's egg blues. It's a seductive suite of photographs, and it caught the eye of New York's Robert Mann Gallery, who showed an expanded version of Sparrow Lane in October.
Antony and the Johnsons
Last year's TBA Festival kicked off with the inspired pairing of Antony and the Johnsons' high-drama chamber pop with the Oregon Symphony, running through a set largely culled from the band's self-titled debut and its forthcoming third album, The Crying Light. Amazingly, 30-plus backing musicians still couldn't upstage Antony Hegarty's ineffable vibrato. Opening with an oppressively haunted version of the David Lynch/Angelo Badalamenti-penned "Mysteries of Love" was great, but Antony's transformation of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" from ringtone-ready jam to hysterical torch song was a revelation.
The installation Ties of Protection and Safe Keeping made its way back from the Whitney Biennial for the Portland Art Museum's APEX exhibition as the United States entered a historic election season, lending MK Guth's homage to the things we value most a new level of poignancy. Having asked participants to write down the things they cherish most on red scraps of fabric, Guth wove them into more than a quarter-mile of flaxen artificial hair, which hangs from the ceiling in a dense tangle of loops and coils. Before November 4, it mapped the collective desires of several communities; after, it was a symbol of how voicing those desires can enact change.
At its core a deceptively simple investigation into the evolution of the modern city, the sprawling Suddenly project, orchestrated by Cooley Gallery curator Stephanie Snyder, writer Matthew Stadler, and a host of collaborators, included exhibitions at Reed College's Cooley Gallery and Milepost 15; a symposium featuring German urban planner Thomas Sieverts and director of the Cincinnati Art Museum Aaron Betsky; a reader; guided tours of Fritz Haeg's Portland edition of his ongoing Animal Estates project; and so much more. Also, it's still happening. The Cooley Gallery exhibition travels to the Pomona College Museum of Art next month.
Though the portraits of smudged and disfigured beauties for which he's best known were still present in ARM & ARM, Tharp's newest work showed the Portland artist confidently branching out into video and installation (in this case, an antique armoire, stuffed with hand-tailored clothing). Another confident step forward for one of the city's best artists.
Splicing the DNA of classical Romantic painting with his own experience growing up in the hyper-consumer culture of the '80s, Adam Sorensen's severe tableaus of jutting mountains and snaking rivers are rendered in neon-charged hues. Are they post-apocalyptic vistas? Has Sorensen rescued a stock background image of Eternia from an episode of He-Man? Either way, it's a masterful reconciliation of high art and low culture.