Disjecta scores a huge hit with the first of eight installments in its two-month, citywide exhibition series, Portland 2010: A Biennial of Contemporary Art. This invigorating show goes a long way toward filling the void left by the Portland Art Museum's cancellation of the Oregon Biennial, a misstep unassuaged by the wan Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, which replaced it. Invigoratingly curated by Cris Moss, director of Linfield College Gallery, Portland 2010's first installment debuted Saturday, March 13, with an electric, spectacularly attended opening at Disjecta's NoPo headquarters.
Entering the space, you're confronted by a long, imposing wall that slants to the left, leading you inward. Suddenly you realize it's not a wall after all; it's the side of a full-sized re-creation of an 18-wheeler, made of drywall and two-by-fours. West Coast Turnaround is Shelby Davis and Crystal Schenk's incongruous reimagining of a highway-hurtling super-rig as a stationary domestic abode.
In the cathedral-like main gallery, Bruce Conkle and Marne Lucas' Warlord Sun King hangs from the rafters, a fanciful chandelier made out of a tanning bed lamp, geodes, potted moss, and coconuts. A postapocalyptic remodel of Louis XIV's Versailles, it's the brand of brilliant non sequitur we have come to expect from the Conkle/Lucas duo.
A few paces away is David Corbett's gunky black enamel-and-wood sculpture, with its intersecting triangles, and his shellac paintings on paper, which echo the triangle motif with ghostly, X-raylike lines. To the right of these, Schenk's stained-glass shopping cart sits in front of her witty wall piece, Holy Cow! A quartz-encrusted steer skull mounted on fancifully cut wood paneling, the sculpture is wry but not smug, campy but still sinister. Across the gallery are Sean Healy's immaculate cigarette-butt wall sculptures and a quartet of curious glass blocks adorned with multicolored racing stripes. They look like molds for an eccentric Jell-O salad. Healy occupies a niche in the dead center between romanticism and postmodernism, and in works such as these, he demonstrates increasing maturity and assurance.
Some of the pieces in this spatially sophisticated, conceptually adventurous show have been exhibited before: Conkle and Lucas' sunlamp fantasia at Marylhurst Art Gym and Davis and Schenk's 18-wheeler at Milepost 5. That's not a detriment, it's a plus. These works deserved to be seen again, and they acquire fresh nuances viewed in a different context.
Looking back at the past decade, you could make a case that PDX's art scene peaked in 2003-04, deflated until 2008, then started to ramp up again. This biennial shows that we're still climbing. Kudos to Moss and Disjecta head Bryan Suereth for making this show happen and reminding us what a remarkable creative flowering we are in the midst of.
at Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave., 286-9449. Show closes April 25. Don't miss upcoming
shows at the Templeton Building (230 E Burnside St.) and Leftbank (240 N Broadway), both March 20-April 25. Details on other installments at portland2010.disjecta.org.