What's Working: The Month of May Winds Down

T he bulk of this month's interesting art in Portland is scattershot, peppering the landscape here and there, but lacking the proper context or punch to create a strong gravitational pull (James Boulton's show at Pulliam Deffenbaugh notwithstanding). Everyone from the coffee shop to the art museum features some compelling art this May, but the best work seems caught in a muck that prevents the pieces from shining as brightly as one would hope.

John Brodie's show at Stumptown, Signs, Desperate is full of direct messages painted in blocky black letters on sheets of chewed up cardboard. Most of them are too full of unintentional references to homelessness and the British artist Gillian Wearing to be very effective, but the grand centerpiece of the show is undeniably commanding. It's an extended plea to a mysterious recipient begging for a fresh start and understanding. Its pointed ambiguity is mildly creepy and altogether human.

Around the corner, Elizabeth Leach has a group show called Intense Focus that highlights artists who work in obsessive, accumulative, or otherwise tedious fashions. For too many artists, this means tiny, tiny Bruce Conner-like speed freak hatch marks, although Intense Focus features many fresh works. Amanda Wojick's Linoleum Hardwood Floor Puddle, a tiered floor mandala made from thousands of nails capped with wood-paneled disks protruding from an eight foot disc is captivating. For his video The Aging Project, Ken Solomon photographed himself every day for three years and turned the results into a low-tech time lapse film. Solomon looks like he's hovering around his mid-thirties, so his physical development isn't as dramatic as a child, or even a tree would be. What is interesting, then, is his devotion to his narcissistic process.

If you rob a bank this month and have 15 still burning a hole in your pocket, make a point to see the Rau Collection at the art museum. The traveling exhibition contains some truly awesome paintings. There are a few Monets, so if Mom comes to town, you can probably convince her to take you. While you're there, look out for the melancholy, overcast El Greco, the highly steal-able Morandi still life, and Elizabeth-Louise Visgee-LeBrun's 1797 portrait of Charlotte Rist, which may be the best John Currin painting in the entire Northwest. CHAS BOWIE