Best show of 2012: In the installation Prison, famed New York-based artist Peter Halley covered Disjecta’s walls with digital prints of his signature prison-bar motif. Lit by acid-green gel lights, the entire space seemed to radiate an eerie, post-nuclear glow.
Best painting: Gleaming, intricate and varied, Tom Cramer’s relief paintings and wood burnings at Laura Russo guided viewers into visual hyperspace, blurring the boundaries between reality, surreality and ecstatic experience.
Best photography: Who would have thought photographs of funeral homes could be so beautiful? John Faier’s Queen of Heaven at Blue Sky showed that tacky sofas, gaudy chandeliers and death can make for a ravishing memento mori.
Best sculpture: At Elizabeth Leach, painter Joe Thurston turned his focus to sculpture. The cratelike boxes in his exhibition, Nothing Leading Anywhere Any More Except to Nothing, were fastidiously constructed but had a monolithic appeal. To walk through them was like walking through a maze, a mausoleum or a national memorial.
Best installation (tie): Wid Chambers thrillingly transformed his namesake gallery with Arc Volant. Flying buttresses in pristine white stretched from one corner of the gallery to the other, creating an atmosphere that felt both futuristic and primordial. It took some time for viewers’ eyes to adjust to the inky darkness that Laura Fritz employed in her installation Entorus, inside a project space on Northwest Hoyt Street. By judicious use of darkness, light and mysterious forms, she created a minimalist tour de force.
Best mixed media: At Elizabeth Leach, Bay Area artist Gregg Renfrow used polymer, pigment and cast acrylic to create supersaturated washes of color. The hues layered atop one another, leaving goopy, stalactite-like drips at the bottom of each piece.
Best work on paper: With gouache and metallic leaf on paper, Eva Speer worked her illusionistic magic in the group show Collider, curated by Jeff Jahn at PSU’s Littman Gallery. Her diptych, Pages From the Book of Lasts I and II, offered a rebuttal to anyone who would claim that painting is no longer relevant.
Best glass: If you had a calendar in which your mood on every day of the year was represented by a color, it would probably look like Mel George’s Frame of Time at Bullseye. This is what the Australian artist has always done best: employ materials to remind us of the fleeting preciousness of time.
Best museum show: Curated by Bruce Guenther at the Portland Art Museum, the exhibition Mark Rothko offered a lavish and thoughtful overview of Rothko’s artistic development, culminating in his ascendancy into the pantheon of abstract expressionism.