I just returned from a road-trip to Oregon. Before I climbed in the 26-foot U-Haul my friend was moving his life with, I asked around for some Portland gallery recommendations. Fourteen30 was what I got. I checked their roster and emailed the artist I was most impressed with – Jesse Sugarmann. Jesse just moved to California, but I got his insiders guide to spaces and artists. I saw almost everything he recommended, and was very impressed.

Glen Fogel at PICA

My first art stop was the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. I felt disappointed as I entered, learning the show was a New York artist. My skepticism quickly vanished. Glen Fogel’s installation of spinning projected wedding rings was perfect here. I knew the work from seeing it at PARTICIPANT in New York. His Lower East Side installation was strong, but this was the ideal setting. Amongst a turned-off fan floor sculpture and an outdoor vinyl work, there were paintings of letters on another floor. Perhaps it was all the Stumptown coffee or because of all the things I wanted to see in just a few days, but I couldn’t be bothered to read them. I was intimidated by their length and now know I missed out on some good art. A press release and poster I grabbed revealed my shortcomings. The 8-1/2” x 11” piece of paper was a copy of a FedEx Claims letter Mr. Fogel may or may not have sent. It concerned the loss of a wedding ring he had borrowed from his mother. Its power lies in how easy you can imagine being the author and wondering if it was really lost, and if so, what did FedEx do. I thought shit, this is some good stuff – what did I miss out on. An informative interview from PICA curator Kristan Kennedy was on the back of the poster. My respect and perspective on this artist grew. He goes BIG in concept and aesthetic. His bold Cadillac installation opened Callicoon Fine Arts space on the LES, which I saw almost a year ago. We should all be excited to see what comes next from Glen Fogel.

Olivia Erlanger at PDX

PDX Contemporary and Elizabeth Leach Gallery lived up to their reputation as being more commercial. Prices were on the wall labels. It also stood out how friendly everyone was. These ladies wouldn’t make the cut on Bravo’s new reality show, Gallery Girls, with all their niceties. Glancing up from taping a box, an art handler even said bye when I left PDX. As for the art from these next-door neighbor galleries, the PDX Window Project was worthy. This idiosyncratic installation was by Olivia Erlanger. Her unique process and material choices were refreshing. She states, “This Window Project is an interpretation of lists that I received in response to a Craigslist Missed Connections post in which I asked the question “What do you like?” These lists are the impetus for the creation of the objects presented here. They represent the desires, fascinations, and fantasies of the anonymous. I have never met the respondents to my Craigslist post, so I created identities for them based off of their responses. With those imaginary identities in mind, I made these objects with the hope of extending a connection between the respondents and another audience.”

gallery 12128

The next thing I knew, I was on a boat. 12128 is a gallery on a 135-foot decommissioned crabbing ship overseen by Kyle Thompson. The hull was built in 1942 for use as a body boat in WWII. When the Bering Sea crab industry took off in the late 80s, the boat was converted for crabbing and became top “dog” in the Dutch Harbor crabbing fleet. It was decommissioned as a fishing vessel in 2005 due to a shift in the crabbing fishery infrastructure, and since then has found work on an oil spill in Alaska and spent a few years moored on Lake Union in Seattle. In 2009 the Labrador, as this boat is known, moved to Portland to become a not-for-profit alternative exhibition space and working studio for a small group of artists. Kyle’s art is also as rich as his boat’s history. The art on the boat was solid too. Maggie Casey’s solo show could stay afloat anywhere in New York. I hate reviews that describe work, so I wont. Did I mention I was on a boat? Where you at Duke Riley? (Yes, I know, you have been doing some amazing work in China.)

gallery opening at 12128

inside the gallery at 12128

12128 at night

Ralph Pugay is the best painter in Portland. His work seems familiar, but his paintings are filled with new ideas in a voice that’s all his. He paints people in odd situations, revealing things we’ve felt, but had no idea how to express it or that we could. I realize I didn’t see enough painters to make bold statements about Ralph, but I’m going to confidently do it anyway. I did spend a few hours in his studio and saw some older work in his home. Look him up.

Ralph Pugay's studio

Ralph Pugay, Mount Murder, Acrylic on board, 16” x 20” - 2010

From Ralph’s I biked to Fourteen30 Contemporary. I was reminded how some work doesn’t translate as jpegs. I wasn’t excited when I looked up the current show online, but once again, my shortcomings were obvious. Bobbi Woods current show is excellent. What goes through my mind a lot is: Have I seen this before? And would I buy this? No and yes. There was a video, an old movie poster rotated, folded, and framed, and 5 other found movie posters covered in enamel chrome paint. Gestures such as hand-prints in the silver paint were left by the artist. Simple mark making was giving a burst of importance in these works. I was surprised how profound these pieces seemed. It was as if seeing 2 worlds colliding poetically on one plane while maintaining a tension that keeps you looking.

Installation view: Bobbi Woods | Warm For Your Form | Fourteen30 Contemporary

Bobbi Woods, Warm For Your Form (detail), 2012 Enamel on poster, 40 x 27 inches

My final day I saw a collective named MSHR at Appendix Project Space. Again, I was blown away with the caliber of work. Appendix is run by 4 artists in a converted garage. I can’t think of any recent New York shows I liked more than this otherworldly interactive installation. A lower east side gallery needs MSHR, and should consider themselves lucky. Talking to Travis, one of the Appendix directors, I found out he has another curatorial platform called American Medium that does shows in Manhattan. Stay tuned for all these Oregonians becoming ubiquitous.

MSHR at Appendix Project Space

MSHR at Appendix Project Space

Lastly, I met the Rock. From Mr. Sugarmann to everyone else I met, I got a sense I was to meet the godfather. Patrick Rock is a jovial man who makes he own whiskey and for 5 years has been putting on challenging shows at Rocks Box. They were installing when I was there, but I did see a large piece of baloney. A brisket on the grill was not art and being tended to by a San Francisco artist in town for the show. Rock lived up to my preconceived ideas. I left with a Rocks Box T-shirt and my Yankee friend who was now calling Portland home got one which read: Fuck New Portland.

Brian Wasson, Bologna, 2012, (around 2 feet in diameter)

Back in New York, I had coffee with Jesse Sugarmann. He was passing through town for a Creative Capital conference. I found out he had lived in Oregon, but never in Portland. I also found out about his upcoming video project for Creative Capital titled We Build Excitement. Jesse is greatly expanding upon his use of automobiles as his artistic voice. His recent work looks at car accidents as points of social exchange and thinking of car accidents as points of creation. Over the next year, he will be opening ersatz Pontiac dealerships in Pontiac, Michigan and Mojave, California. These dealership sets will be his main shooting locations. Sugarmann will also be working with car accident survivors, automotive assembly line workers, and choreographers to turn movements related to the creation and destruction of automobiles into dance.
With galleries existing in new structures, artists primarily concerned with their individual visions, I’m inclined to believe even the air emitting from Jesse Sugarmann’s cars in the Northwest is fresh. It takes more than a weekend to see everything good going on in Portland, as I did miss seeing a few things suggested to me such as YU Contemporary and Recess. As for those of us in the Northeast, we’re in luck. Look for Fourteen30 at NADA Hudson at the end of the month.