It's a turbulent time for First Thursday.
After almost a decade of programming, White Box gallery is opening its final curated show. Gallery closings in Portland are nothing new, but it's particularly foreboding that White Box isn't an independent gallery—it's affiliated with the University of Oregon, which is shutting down the gallery because of a lack of funding.
Meanwhile, another Northwest Portland gallery is rising from the grave—sort of. The much-loved Hap Gallery closed at the end of last year, but only a few months later, Hap's former associate director, Iris Williamson, has co-founded a new gallery in Hap's old space with John Knight of Cherry & Lucic. This week, Williamson|Knight kicks off its programming.
Amid the rise and fall of arts spaces, here are the five shows we're most excited about.
Ice Fishers and Nadachi
Photography gallery Blue Sky's doubleheader exhibit tells a tale of isolation. There's Aleksey Kondratyev's sparse, isolating photos of ice fishermen along the Ishim River in north-central Kazakhstan, the world's second-coldest populated region. The photos are as stark as they are intimate: The men huddle alone in translucent plastic tents surrounded by an all-white landscape. Then there's Seiya Bowen's photographs of the rural Japanese town where his grandparents live, Nadachi. Set in a warmer climate with lushly forested landscapes, Bowen's images are far more vibrant than Kondratyev's but still convey a certain loneliness—the underdeveloped town of Nadachi sits below a giant highway overpass. Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW 8th Ave., blueskygallery.org. May 4-28.
A Group Thing
Stephanie Chefas Projects' next group show is about, well, groups. Chefas has rounded up nine local and national artists with disparate backgrounds, from Godeleine de Rosamel's small, otherworldly ceramic creatures to John Felix Arnold III's large, mixed-media installations. But the works revealed so far are precise and harmonious—Laura Berger's and Ryan Whelan's are particularly meditative. It's hard to imagine how all of that will fit together, but Chefas has a reputation for letting the artists influence her curatorial projects. So like a true group thing, the exhibit's narrative can only really manifest when all nine artists' works are on display. Stephanie Chefas Project, 305 SE 3rd Ave., No. 202, stephaniechefas.com. May 5-27.
Social Learning Theory
Sheida Soleimani's Social Learning Theory is the official start to Williamson|Knight's programming, and a bold re-entry into the gallery world. The works of Soleimani, an Iranian American who lives in Rhode Island, include cotton figures printed with pixelated photos of Iranian women who have been executed by their government. The figures reference Bobo dolls, the inflatable plastic punching toys used in an early-'60s study on childhood aggression. Williamson|Knight, 916 NW Flanders St., williamsonknight.com. May 4-June 17.
White Box isn't going down quietly. Its extensive lineup for Functionally United seems less a conciliatory retrospective than a way of reminding us what we'll miss when the gallery is gone. For its final show, White Box has booked an extraordinarily large list of artists, nearly 40, many of whom have previously had work displayed at the gallery. White Box, 70 NW Couch St., whitebox.uoregon.edu. May 4-27.
What Is Art? Questioned & Answered
We get it—modern art can be intimidating. The clichéd question, "What is art?" can sound more alienating than anti-establishment. But thankfully, the two people leading this talk are frequently criticized for their extreme lack of taste. Shane Bugbee has pissed off people for a lot of reasons, but perhaps most famously for publishing Mike Diana's comics during Diana's obscenity trial and for assisting in the formation of the Satanic Temple. He'll be joined by comedian Rick Shapiro, whose acting credits include a role in Lucky Louie and voice acting for Grand Theft Auto. If anyone has the ability to bring some needed levity and genuine insolence to a conversation about art, it's them. Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., cstpdx.com. 7 pm Tuesday, May 9. $13 advance VIP ticket includes swag bag, $7-$10 suggested sliding scale at the door.