You don't need to frequent galleries to be familiar with several artists showing at this month's First Thursday.
If you've seen the cover of Solange's True, you've seen Mickalene Thomas' work. And if you've seen the cover of either of Erykah Badu's New Amerykah albums, you've seen Emek's work. Lee Kelly's outdoor sculptures can be found throughout the city. If you were around for First Thursday last fall, you could have gone to see sculptor James Florschutz working in his studio.
Of course, there are also plenty of exhibits opening this week by artists whose art you do have to visit a gallery to see, but are still plenty accessible. Morehshin Allahyari's She Who Sees the Unknown might be the product of two years of research, but its message is hardly esoteric: The conversation about how women are portrayed in art is far from over.
Ideally, we'd all give more thought to the art that's around us every day and be less intellectually intimidated by art displayed in white-box galleries. But for now, here are the five art shows we're most excited to see this week.
The Thinking Man's Poster Art
Unlike the ubiquitous poster sale with twee designs for gigs you've never been to, The Thinking Man's Poster Art is a curated exhibit of works by a single artist. Emek's work is highly intricate, bizarre and imaginative. He's designed posters for the likes of Radiohead, Pearl Jam and PJ Harvey, and he's been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But depending on your tolerance for cerebral stoner art, his work can be hit or miss, which makes it kind of fitting that the exhibit's title is a Henry Rollins accolade. Jupiter Hotel, 800 E Burnside, jupiterhotel.com, 503-230-9200. June 2-August 1.
Winter Garden at Muktinath
Sculptor Lee Kelly is a Portland legend. His works are all over the city, including his gleeful, bulky Memory 99 along Southwest Park and his meditative fountain in the Rose Test Garden. Now in his 80s, the Oregon artist is still at it. His exhibit of new works is an ode to Muktinath, a Nepalese temple that Kelly recently visited. The exhibit's central piece will be a mammoth, 10-foot-tall structure made of steel with a marbled, metallic surface that's weaved into a fluid pattern. Elizabeth Leach Gallery, 417 NW 9th Ave., elizabethleach.com, 503-224-0521. June 1-July 15.
She Who Sees the Unknown
Morehshin Allahyari isn't interested in the idea of a motherly, source-of-creation goddess. She Who Sees the Unknown is an archive of chaotic, destructive Middle Eastern goddesses reframed as complicated instead of evil. In a subtle but powerful shift, she re-creates images from ancient texts as glossy, monochromatic 3D forms. It's UPFOR's first of three exhibits by female media artists. At the end of the summer, the series will culminate in a group show that will likely be both strange and epic. UPFOR, 929 NW Flanders St., upforgallery.com, 503-227-5111. June 1-June 24.
James Florschutz's art is not what first comes to mind when you think of wood sculptures. Chaotic and fragmented, they take more after splinters than a harmonious tree trunk or the smooth surfaces you'd find in most woodworking shops. His sculptures are built from found objects, which seems to explain the multi-syllabic title of his new exhibit. Augen Gallery, 716 NW Davis, augengallery.com, 503-546-5056. June 1-July 1.
In Conversation: Mickalene Thomas
Though her name might be most associated with a glamorous, pop art print of Michelle Obama, Mickalene Thomas' vibrant, collage-like portraits of black women can be found on the cover of Solange's True and Morgan Parker's recently released book of poems, There Are Things More Beautiful Than Beyoncé. Plus, the New York-based artist is a former Portlander. Her talk at the Portland Art Museum is in conjunction with Constructing Identity, the museum's compelling exhibit of works by black artists. Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., portlandartmuseum.org, 503-226-2811. 6 pm June 1.