Big news in 2014 was the retirement of longtime Portland Art Museum chief curator Bruce Guenther. Guenther could be crusty and arrogant to people he didn't have use for, but if you were thinking of donating a couple million bucks or an important painting, he was the picture of charm. Curatorially, he was formidable, and PAM would do well to replace him in 2015 with someone approaching his caliber of aesthetic savvy.
Fortunately, no matter who succeeds Guenther, Portland's visual-arts culture isn't dependent on museum curators. Our art culture doesn't trickle down from august institutions; it bubbles up from street-scene incubators like the Everett Station Lofts and multi-use spaces like Compound, Nationale, and the Goodfoot. Across a broad range of venues, this year delivered an embarrassment of aesthetic riches. Here are some of my favorite shows.
Best Show of 2014: Hayley Barker's Apparition Hill at Charles A. Hartman—dramatic paintings based on the artist's pilgrimage to a mystic shrine in Herzegovina.
Best Painting: Sherrie Wolf's Museum at Laura Russo—a witty and technically assured tour through 600 years of art history.
Best Drawing (tie): Dan Attoe's unnerving fantasia of Northwest landscape at Fourteen30 Contemporary; Wes Mills' fastidious works on paper at PDX Contemporary.
Best Sculpture: Lee Kelly's Pavilion, based on his travels to Nepal, at Elizabeth Leach.
Best Conceptual Show: Eva Lake's Anonymous Women at Augen—a moving reflection on the simultaneous empowerment and objectification of women in advertising, fashion, and contemporary mores.
Best Mixed Media (tie): Laura Ross-Paul's ecstatic integration of city and nature, Urban Forest, at Froelick; Anna Fidler's spooky channeling of Edgar Allan Poe, A Dream Within a Dream, at Charles A. Hartman.
Best Installation: Claire Ashley and Bahar Yurukoglu's absurdist Intimate Horizons at Disjecta, curated by Rachel Adams.
Best Prints: Artistic License at Butters, featuring elegant monoprints by Bernd Haussmann, Eva Issaksen, Melinda Stickney-Gibson and a host of other regionally and nationally known artists.
Best Photography (tie): Carol Yarrow's sensitive photo essay, One Mahogany Left Standing, at Blue Sky; Sarah Knobel's agreeably creepy Icescapes at Newspace.
Best New Public Art (tie): Hannes Wingate's supersized bird's nest (now disassembled) on the east side of the Burnside Bridge; Linda Wysong's "log dog" sculptures, collectively titled Eye River, along Southeast Clay Street.
Best Glass: Constructions, Jeffrey Sarmiento's reflections on gender and cultural identity, at Bullseye.
Best Eye Candy: Gregg Renfrow's luminous abstractions at Elizabeth Leach.
Best Reason to Drive to Forest Grove: Curator Jeff Jahn's Anthropometry: Science and Design in the Contemporary Art Experience at Pacific University.
Best Reason to Drive to Eugene: Ryo Toyonaga's deliciously pervy sculptures and paintings at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.