WELL, GUYS, it's 2013 and the world didn't end. Which means: Art still matters, and First Thursday now vibrates at a higher frequency. On my January beat, I would personally witness wild fluctuations in the character of curators and the presence of patrons, and I'd be made privy to international intrigue. But before that whole universe exploded, I stood at the White Box Gallery (24 NW 1st) amid an array of rusty rubble.
In Affective Duplication, graffitist The Reader uses corrugated tin to form a wall and a tunnel, through which a row of busted-out, bullet-ravaged newspaper boxes spell a message large enough to see from space: "REREAD BOOKS." The scale and materials alone show a refreshing level of commitment to installation and mixed media, though the messages are cryptic. In an adjacent room, three walls flicker with animated projections of pop art text, creating an effect that's less intellectually demanding than it is ambient—like an aquarium for fonts. My advice? Take a date here. Sit on the bench and make out as if language is lost and you two are the last people on earth.
Wishing the silent White Box more visits, I crossed the desolate MAX tracks and passed two giant laundry carts with eerily screaming wheels. "I don't know if Dave appreciates how irritating this is," one cart-pusher mused to the other. As the pair paused to consider WD-40, I forged on to the Everett Station Lofts and Galleries (625 NW Everett).
Admit it: Some of the Lofts tend to resemble stoner dorm rooms (heck, one space served Frito pie as hors d'oeuvres). However, the newest curator, a baby boomer in an olive sharkskin suit, hosted an impressively packed inaugural show (Charles "Chuck" Harper's mixed-media metalworks). Reluctant to advertise just yet because he's toying with a Spanish-sounding alias, the Lake Oswego resident did reveal that he's planning some map-inspired installations. No doubt the coming months will reveal what this guy is or isn't smoking.
If you spent 2012 admiring Portland Art Museum's Ellsworth Kelly exhibition, you can get another fix of 1960's color-field modernism via Josef Albers' The Interaction of Color at Augen (716 NW Davis). I imagine the brightest, blockiest color studies of this era were easier to enjoy before desktop printers started spitting out similar stuff unbidden—but Albers' subtler, more optically disorienting works feel a bit more "now" thanks to a lower-contrast palette and diagonals that evoke faceted prisms or slightly ajar doors.
At Froelick's group show (714 NW Davis), the prime placement goes to realists. Katherine Ace's still-life oils transcend home-and-garden mundanity with dark, mottled backgrounds and surprising subjects (a bright tree frog, a self-peeling lemon) but Stephen O'Donnell's matched pair of he-she portraits, "La Lorgnette" and "Le Monocle," hold court. The duo are initially most striking for antique technique and arcane period garb (opera glasses for her, a monocle for him)... but the punchline requires a second look. "Are these the same person?" I asked two dudes in dark stocking caps. "No way. Okay—maybe?" "She has chest-hair!" I pressed. "Oh!" both guys exclaimed at once. The verdict: They are the same person, and that person is the painter. O'Donnell, I love it. Modern, classic, haughty, naughty, sneaky, and brushstroke-perfect.
Here's some rainy-day fun: Pick a few blurry black-and-white images from Charles A. Hartman Gallery's (134 NW 8th) Vintage Photogravures 1903-1917 and imagine your own German Expressionist film. Who's the leading lady—the sultry nude? The plump, funny maid? Where's she going—a bullfight, or a parasol picnic? Via zeppelin, train, or biplane? Choose your own adventure.
Meanwhile, at Blue Sky Gallery (122 NW 8th), Andy Freeberg's profiles of "the gallery world" are glorious for their subject matter as much as the photographer's eye, and may provoke scene-envy for Art Basel or Pulse New York. You may wish you were viewing the actual pieces depicted in the backgrounds of the photos. Any such dissatisfaction would be heightened by a peek at Jesse Hayward's work in the attached Nine Gallery, where sloppy geometry meets an uncomfortably broad color palette that goes from mucky to shrill. Hillerbrand + Magsamen's prop-heavy portraits and junk jumbles bridge Blue Sky's other extremes, evoking the postmodern theater of Risk/Reward and TBA. Ultimately, though, I'd rather watch Hillerbrand do something wearing underwear and spongy Hulk fists, beyond mere posing. Hillerbrand smash? I didn't ask.