Best Portland Art of the Year 2012

Favorite shows and pieces from 2012.

Most Read Food Art Local Music Best Nonlocal Grab Bag Books Movies Drink
The Portland art scene lost some important venues in 2012. After mounting some of the strongest shows in recent memory, Victory Gallery closed its doors due to economic necessities. One of the Pacific Northwest’s hippest art and music spaces, Worksound, concluded its visual arts programming, leaving a hole in the artistic soul of the east side. And Launch Pad, a hub for lowbrow art and bohemian socializing, closed when founder Ben Pink moved to Seattle and tried to run the space from afar, but couldn’t make it work. On a positive front, a new art space in the Everett Station Lofts, Cock Gallery, made waves with sexually transgressive work that challenged viewers’ expectations. And after years of sputtering along with promises, promises, promises of great programming to come, YU Contemporary finally began to deliver the goods. As always, this town’s artists continued to wow our eyes and pique our brains with some superb work across diverse media. Here are our picks for Best Visual Art of 2012.

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 conceptual show: Using photography, German artist Marianne Wex's eponymous exhibition at YU Contemporary thought-provokingly deconstructed gender and body language.

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.