The Portland art scene in 2010 had a Dickensian “best of times, worst of times” duality. Among the setbacks and sadnesses were veteran gallerist Laura Russo’s death in February from esophageal cancer at the age of 66 and, on Dec. 12, the death at 83 of philanthropist Ed Cauduro, one of the Northwest’s pre-eminent art collectors. Also this year, several notable galleries closed their doors: Beppu Wiarda in July, Ogle in October, and Fourteen30 Contemporary in November, although the latter gallery is restructuring and, according to director Jeanine Jablonski, will reincarnate in some fashion come springtime.
Despite the rough patches, there were reasons for optimism. In May, artists Blair Saxon-Hill and John Brodie opened the heady and chic art-book store, Monograph Bookwerks (5005 NE 27th Ave., 284-5005), a big shot in the arm for Portland’s cultural credibility. Also in the spring, curators Arcy Douglass and Jeff Jahn mounted the world-class scholarly conference and exhibition Donald Judd: Delegated Fabrication at UO’s Portland campus in Old Town. And in November, the eminently promising YU Contemporary Art Center held a preview touting its cavernous exhibition space and big, if thus far ill-defined, ideas for programming. Then there were the gallery, nonprofit, institutional and museum shows that continue to make visual-arts offerings in Portland so consistently varied and vital. These were some of our favorites.
Best show of 2010: John Dempcy’s rapturous abstractions, Inner Fictions, at Augen in July.
Best painting: Adam Sorensen’s fantastical landscapes at PDX in September.
Best sculpture: (tie) Cris Bruch’s eccentric bubble forms and architectonic wall sculptures at Elizabeth Leach in August, and Josh Smith’s wittily arcane Working With Doubt at PNCA’s Manuel Izquierdo Gallery in April.
Best mixed media: Monica Lundy’s clay-slathered Obscure Histories at Ogle in August.
Best photography: Stella Johnson’s sun-and-shadow reveries at Blue Sky in October.
Best work on paper: Doron Fishman’s seepy, swirly ink studies in Pulliam’s August group show.
Best collage: Eva Lake’s incisive feminist take on Tinseltown, Targets, at Augen in June.
Best glass: Joanne Teasdale’s hauntingly elegiac Imprints at Bullseye in April.
Best installation: (tie) Bruce Conkle’s quirkily virtuosic Magic Chunks at Worksound in October, and Wid Chambers’ wall-spanning gestural arcs at Chambers @ 916 in June.
Best group show: Curator Chris Moss’ lively Portland 2010: A Biennial of Contemporary Art at Disjecta in March.
Best museum show: Curator Bruce Guenther’s calculatedly unsettling Disquieted at Portland Art Museum in March.