As Andy Warhol proved, banality does not equal boredom. Depictions of commonplace mass-produced objects like soup cans or Brillo pads needn't stultify the viewer, so long as there's flair in the execution and a modicum of plausibility inferable behind the artist's intent. This is a lesson that local artist Brad Adkins never learned—until, perhaps, now. One of Portland's preeminent yawn-inducers, Adkins has managed to make a name for himself through a persona and a body of work that barely register a pulse. Through affiliations with PICA, the Portland Art Museum and now PDX Gallery, he has acquired a reputation that could only be possible in an era when Duchampian regurgitation and willful inarticulateness can successfully be passed off as insight.
And yet Adkins, perhaps for the first time, has stumbled onto something important, something that by all indications he never intended to discover: beauty. Essaying photography, the artist has created stunning Chromira prints that slacken the jaw with their simplicity and luminescence. Adkins has chosen to photograph balloons—specifically, the ends of balloons that have not been blown up. Captured in extreme close-up, these circular puckers do not necessarily look like balloons. At the show's First Thursday opening, I overheard two people mistake them for unextended condoms. Two other gallery-goers said they looked "like assholes." Sphincter-like or no, it is the images' graphic simplicity, their minimalist elegance, that is so striking, along with the individuated chromatic personalities that each of the three photos emanates: One balloon is pink, another creamy white, another a striking electric blue, each floating above a flat but lustrous white background. The white piece, in particular, has the kind of grace that PDX owner and "quiet art" aficionado Jane Beebe has such an eye for. With their exquisite lighting, iconic presence and intense saturation playing off such understated backdrops, these prints could well lay the cornerstone of a whole new body of work, with inexhaustible possibilities for exploration and development. Time will tell if the works are such or are merely an anomaly.
PDX Gallery, 925 NW Flanders St., 222-0063. Closes Oct. 28.