IT'S KIND OF impossible to imagine Portland's visual art scene without Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). From bringing big names in performance art to town for the annual Time-Based Art Festival, to making space for work that fits between traditional genre categories (hi, Lynne Tillman), to supporting emerging artists with programs like the Precipice Fund, PICA's presence is strongly felt if you live here and care about contemporary art.
And PICA's celebrating 20 years this Saturday, May 16, with an extra-special b-day afterparty at the Redd following its swank annual gala, Tadada! (which is Dada-themed, because of course it is). You can also get a look at where it all started, with Elizabeth Leach Gallery's new retrospective show, PICA: Celebrating 20 Years, Reflecting on the First Decade, which brings together work from 21 artists who've been associated with PICA since its 1995 inception as a haven for experimental visual and performing arts.
If you already love contemporary art, The First Decade's a pleasant slow burn. And if you don't (yet!), it's a contained, accessible primer that nods at more opaquely conceptual work without getting too much into the art-school weeds. Look for "How People Help Us" from (PICA's visual art curator) Kristan Kennedy and Topher Sinkinson's collective, Swallow Press (x2): a huge, framed blown-up print of corrected typewriter text describing the hidden function of billboards, juxtaposed with a pile of similar posters piled on the floor. On closer inspection, what's below are copies of an erasure of the printed text, gently abstracting the source's meaning (gallery visitors can take home a copy).
Anish Kapoor's "Shadow V (purple)," four color etchings in deep blues and purples framing points of light, are also worth a look, as are Malia Jensen's cartoonish sculptures of perfectly shaped skipping stones, and a polka-dotted bundle on a stick that looks almost like a found object, but is actually heavily constructed (out of patinated bronze).
And if that's not enough art for you, party on this weekend at the gala and afterparty. "Chaos and splendor" have been promised, and I've been reminded—twice!—to wear a costume.