When you look back over the year, it’s kind of like that segment on the Academy Awards where they flash pictures of all the movie people who died. That’s the way Portland gallerygoers feel when they remember the galleries we lost this year. The superb Pulliam Gallery closed, although it has since reopened with radically curtailed hours in a new location. Backspace shuttered after a protracted swan dive, although supposedly it’s reopening next summer on the east side. And Chambers Gallery, which excelled in installation-based shows, also gave up the ghost. Happily, 2013 offered plenty of developments to offset the losses, foremost among them the opening of Upfor, a promising new gallery dedicated to new media. Even more importantly, Portland artists charged forth with ever-more-daring explorations of materials and processes. Here, then, are our picks for the year’s best shows.
Best show: Painter Lucinda Parker’s rapturous hymn to Mount Hood, All Clouds Choose the Loftiest Peak to Pile Themselves Upon, at Laura Russo Gallery.
Best painting: Tom Cramer’s Continuum, a tour de force spanning painting, wood relief, wood burnings and drawing, at Laura Russo Gallery.
Best photography: Ron van Dongen’s super-saturated, thrillingly composed floral still lifes at Froelick Gallery.
Best sculpture: (tie) Ellen George and Jerry Mayer’s enormous hanging sculpture, Off Black, at Nine Gallery; and We Are the Landscape of All We Know, a showcase of 22 sculptures by Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) at the Portland Japanese Garden.
Best public art: Lead Pencil Studio’s Inversion: +/- , a dramatic suite of COR-TEN steel structures beside the east ramps of the Morrison and Hawthorne bridges.
Best new media: Liquid Hand, a flashing, honking, interactive phantasmagoria by the collaborative duo MSHR (Brenna Murphy and Birch Cooper) at Upfor Gallery.
Best conceptual show: Marne Lucas and Jacob Pander’s Incident Energy, a metaphoric narrative of lust, love and desolation, filmed in eerie infrared, at Disjecta.
Best installation: Lucy Skaer’s expansive meditation on limestone and terra cotta at YU.
Best group show: The collective Paintallica’s celebration of all things lowbrow and vulgar, Smell the Bar Oil..., at Rocksbox.
Best mixed media: (tie) Dinh Q. Lê’s sliced-and-woven photographs, Fixing the Impermanent, at Elizabeth Leach Gallery; and Brenda Mallory’s wax-and-metal sculptures, Reiterations and Rifts, at Butters Gallery.
Best works on paper: Augustine Kofie’s architectonic rhapsodies at Breeze Block Gallery.
Best glass: Bullseye Gallery’s 15-artist show, Chroma-Culture, celebrating black, white and the glorious universe in between.
Best museum show: The Portland Art Museum’s spectacular Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, nimbly curated by Bonnie Laing-Malcolmson.
Here’s to even more daring, thought-provoking, beautiful and terrifying work in 2014!