Laura Fritz is a mistress of the arcane. With her creepily clinical work, the Portland artist leaves you disoriented, curious, perhaps even repulsed, and above all scratching your head, saying, "Whaa?" These are the kinds of complex reactions she goes after, and achieves, in the cheekily titled Evident, the latest show in New American Art Union's superb Couture series. When you enter the darkened, vaguely sinister exhibition space, you see only two objects. There's a black wardrobe cabinet, its door ajar just enough to make you wonder what's inside. And, in the middle of the floor, there's a black box riddled with holes, and a video projector within it that shoots rays of light outward and upward onto the gallery walls. The holes glow blue and violet and pretty, pretty purple—although the images they're projecting on the walls aren't pretty at all, except maybe to an entomologist. They're bugs: little flying and crawling things that scuttle into the circles of light, meander around a bit, then fly away. Looking at them, you wonder: Are they crawling in front of the projector right now, in real time, or are they just a video loop?

Now you're in the palm of Fritz's hand. She's fascinated by the narratives we generate inside our heads as we try to figure things out. In her own way she's a scientist; a psychologist; a sociologist who sets up absurdist situations and then watches us react. Her installations are like antiseptic laboratories into which she introduces squirmy shadows of the natural world, deliberately sullying the perfect artifice she's created—unless the shadows themselves are simulations.... Are you scratching your head yet? Good.

Minimalism such as this is by nature maddening and unsatisfying. Evident leaves you wanting more: more objects in the room, more light circles on the walls, more insects in the circles, perhaps a sound component to spice things up. The show is like being on a liquid diet when you're desperately craving a double cheeseburger: It gives you a heightened awareness of your expectations and the ways in which they're not being met.


at New American Art Union, 922 SE Ankeny St., 231-8294. Closes Feb. 22.