No need to mince words: 2008 kicked the Portland art scene in the nuts. The Portland Art Center folded. Affair at the Jupiter Hotel canceled indefinitely. Tilt and Rake galleries closed. At the Portland Art Museum, curator Terry Toedtemeier died, and curator Jennifer Gately resigned without explanation. The financial crisis spooked collectors, decimated sales and decreased Portland’s presence in national art fairs. Still, there were bright spots. After a curatorial dry stretch, arts nonprofit Disjecta returned with a new home and renewed vigor. Artist M.K. Guth exhibited her work at the Whitney Biennial. Ambitious gallerista Jeanine Jablonski opened a promising new commercial space, Fourteen30 Contemporary. The Nines hotel demonstrated just how world-class our local artist base has become. And a trio of existing galleries—New American Art Union, Rocksbox and WorkSound—turbo-charged their programming, collectively raising the art scene’s energy level to heights not seen in at least four years. Here are some other reasons to rejoice as we remember the year that was:
Best show of 2008: Sean Healy’s Life in Black and White at Elizabeth Leach—a rigorously conceived, immaculately executed evolution for this deeply introspective artist.
Best painting: John Dempcy’s lush variations on the concentric circle at Augen.
Best sculpture: Joe Feddersen’s mirrored Native American nouveau at Froelick.
Best mixed media: (tie) Jacqueline Ehlis’ ravishing post-conceptualism at NAAU; Dan Gilsdorf’s neo-industrial horror house at Disjecta.
Best photography: Gallery Homeland’s Wild, Wild West, with eerie prints of ghost towns and bordellos by Berthold Steinhilber and Timothy Hursley.
Best installation: INFINITUS, TJ Norris’ super-chilled minimalism at NAAU.
Best work on paper: (tie) Tsilli Pines’ delicate witticisms at Ogle; Sara Siestreem’s bold paintings at Mark Woolley.
Best glass: Jane Bruce’s Contained Abstraction, an elegant etude on the vessel, at Bullseye.
Best group show: (tie) Jeff Jahn’s ambitious Volume at WorkSound; Damien Gilley’s spatially syncopated Immaterialized at Disjecta.
Best museum show: The focused, funky slacker-chic of the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards at PAM.
A final note.... As we head into 2009, here’s hoping Barack Obama and his team will create a friendlier climate toward the arts, with renewed funding and a cessation of attacks on organizations such as PBS and the NEA, and generate an economic recovery that will put money back in the pockets of artists, collectors, gallery directors and institutions. Nothing feeds the soul like art, and nothing feeds art like cold, hard cash. Happy New Year! RICHARD SPEER.