UNLESS you're independently wealthy (in which case, ready yr oyster knife!), art galleries are basically incredible places to see art for free. It might seem easy to dismiss them as peak-snoot circle-jerks only good for the free wine on First Thursday (complimentary booze 'n' snacks should never be de-emphasized; seriously, that's just being resourceful), but Portland's home to no shortage of quality outside-the-white-box white boxes. These galleries aren't the glossy usual suspects: One doesn't have much web presence to speak of, another isn't actually in Portland, and the best time to visit is any Thursday except the first of the month. Behold: some of Portland's less obvious—but no less beloved—places to look at art for zero dollars.
Run by an anonymous collective of artists, Open Gallery (323 NW 6th) is a small, no-frills, zero-snobbery spot in Old Town/Chinatown that exists mainly as studio space. But in the storefront, there's a small, lovingly appointed gallery, where the resident artists trade off curating shows. The result is an idiosyncratic mix of work from artists who are probably under your radar, but shouldn't be. From Carly Jean Andrews' actually-lifelike pinup girl drawings to Jean Nagai's frenetic, monochrome works on paper to Lora Baize's brightly colored, highly textured paintings of domestic spaces, Open Gallery almost always has something worth putting in front of your eyeballs.
If you have a photography freak in your life, take them to Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books (2916 NE Alberta) and let them roam one of the city's most varied and strange collections of limited-run artist books, plus the greats of the genre collected in print (think: Ed Ruscha, Sally Mann, and other art-history major staples). While they do that, you can check out Ampersand's latest show, typically a small but well-curated offering, often—but not always—featuring some kind of riff on photography.
- Isaac Tin Wei Lin at Adams and Dollman Gallery
Most galleries don't represent what's often referred to as "outsider art"—made by self-taught artists or those outside the narrow groves of academe. But Adams and Ollman (209 SW 9th) is one of the few galleries anywhere to combine the work of outsider artists and classically trained artists with a similar sensibility. Recent shows have also included big names in contemporary art, like genderqueer performance artist Vaginal Davis.
Yes, it's in Oswego, which means you either need a friend with a car or an excellent bus-book, but don't be fooled by its bougie location or, you know, the fact that it's part of a Catholic college, because the Art Gym at Marylhurst University (17600 Pacific Hwy, Marylhurst) is a hidden gem for fans of conceptual art, booking some of the most out-there shows around, like PNCA faculty Heidi Schwegler's terrifying as fuck Botched Execution. This spring, she filled the pristine space with a combination of photography, performance, and sculpture in a show that called to mind such varied horrors as the prison-industrial complex, the uncanny terror of clowns, and the work of David Lynch. It wasn't pretty, but the best art often isn't.
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