In a year when the national media couldn't get enough of Portland's creative-class utopia, local visual arts venues experienced a dearth of challenging group shows and a wave of staggering apathy among Stumptowners oblivious to our most dynamic arts organizations (Portland Art Center, anyone?). Still, despite an overabundance of talent and underabundance of philanthropy, the cream still rose to the top, with astounding work by local artists across all media.
Best painting show: In August at Elizabeth Leach, painter Joe Thurston blasted out of his tried-and-true spaghetti-faced portraits and debuted a series of splatter paintings carved into vibrant backgrounds on wood panel. Exultant, free, vivid, the works showed that a mid-career artist can reinvent himself—to stunning effect.
Best works on paper: Ian Boyden's April show at Augen was filled with fanciful abstracted landscapes made from crushed pearls and pigments made out of semi-precious stones, all in the service of dramatic, fountainlike imagery.
Best sculpture: Renowned ceramicist Jun Kaneko rocked Bullseye Gallery with new works in glass, including 9-foot-tall glass planks in primary colors and glowing panels shot through with bubbles, emitting splintered light and shadows.
Best photography: At Sugar, Brooklyn photographer Peter Beste's portraits of Norwegian "dark metal" frontmen winked with geeky camp and sublimated homoeroticism.
Best digital video: In March, Matt McCormick projected his desolate Western landscapes at Elizabeth Leach, filling the gallery's walls with odes to majestic landscapes, juxtaposed against dingy relics of Route 66-era kitsch.
Best installation: (tie) At Portland Art Center, Abi Spring and TJ Norris' SIM PK.2 confounded gallery-goers with its sinuous amoeba of cut glass, circular photographs, lime-green containers holding plastic flowers, and eerie, fabric sky. A few blocks away at Ogle, Chinese-born artist Weihong chatted with "tea guests" in her 255 - 0 + Tea , riffing on the nature of extremes and the infinite gradations in between.
Best mixed-media: In June at Pulliam Deffenbaugh, Anna Fidler crafted craggy caves and rainbow-kissed landscapes of the mind, which would have given Coleridge—or Dr. Seuss, for that matter—a run for their money.
Best museum show: L.A.-bred artist Kehinde Wiley filled the Portland Art Museum with his Old Masters-meets-hip-hop portraiture, deploying superb realist technique in the service of a contemporary romantic sensibility.
Best visual arts blog: Artist/curator TJ Norris' unBLOGGED (tjnorris.net/blog) is everything a visual arts blog should be: informed but not condescending, opinionated but not bitchy, positive without stooping to boosterism—and full of a deep-seated generosity of spirit.
Best art fair: The best Portland art fair this year was not the Affair at the Jupiter Hotel; it was the panoply of Portland galleries at Bridge, Aqua, Flow and other satellite fairs of Art Basel Miami Beach. In glamorous South Beach and edgy Wynwood, galleries including Small A Projects, Pulliam Deffenbaugh, Elizabeth Leach, PDX and Butters converged to offer international collectors a heady taste of Northwest art.
Best aesthetic moment: As an aesthete who takes beauty wherever he can get it, I concede that my greatest rapture of 2007 did not come in an art gallery, but at PCPA, watching Mikhail Baryshnikov performing Donna Uchizono's Leap to Tall at PICA's annual Time-Based Art Festival. In the precision and passion of the dancer's every move, concept and execution melded in the kind of perfection that the greatest artists—visual, kinesthetic, or sonic—strive for and occasionally achieve. Beauty crosses disciplines, seizing the eyes, ventilating the spirit. Here's to that: Viviamo di bellezza , 2008!