In the spectrum of Portland recent visual arts curatorial enterprises, intuition has largely been relegated to second fiddle. The Portland Art Museum’s choices are led by established resumes—or by the need to establish them. Reed College’s and PNCA’s often excellent exhibitions are driven by intellectual and pedagogical concerns. Outlier independents like Jeff Jahn have one eye on regional (and self-) promotion. Nothing new here: these are the conceits that drive artworlds macro- and micro-. But like a unexpected blast of sun in March or a tasty cocktail at the start of a party, Portland has desperately needed the combination of guts, good eyes, and generous soul that Sarah Meigs’ Lumber Room is finally providing.
Meigs is one of—if not the—most driven contemporary art collectors in Portland right now. At her open-Fridays-and-Saturdays-only private space, the Lumber Room, she’s previously invited talents like artist Storm Tharp and Reed curator Stephanie Snyder to assemble shows. But now on view is her first outing as a curator herself. This show, nearly all photography, looks beyond au courant fascinations with cinema and subtle (and not-so-subtle) digital manipulations, to a strain of the medium that reaches back to its invention: creating small worlds to photograph. And with a freedom and reach unmatched elsewhere in town, Meigs beautifully juxtaposes local, national, and international artists under the simple impulse that these works are exploring similar concepts—and simply feel good together.
As you walk in the Lumber Room’s front entrance, Los Angeles-based Jennifer West’s 16mm film “Nirvana Alchemy” loops a heavily chemically altered 16mm film of her kids jumping to an unheard soundtrack of the famed Seattle Grunge band. A pair of images at the top of the stairs by PSU Evan La Londe study the delicate cast of light through a single broken shard of glass. In the large room, Meigs calls the “yard,” dozens of color photographs by Virginia-based artist Corin Hewitt study the multi-day residency he did in 2007 at Small A Projects, where, like some sort of unhinged chef, he created a series of improvisations in clay, pasta, and who knows what else on everything from the fruit he was eating to the Indian baskets he pulled off of the Portland Art Museum’s website. In the loft’s bedroom, London artist Elizabeth McAlpine’s series of “Line Drawings” are photographs of black tape that she has deployed across the subtle curves of interior architectural details. Her piece, “The Map of Exactitude,” is a multiple direct paper-negative print made by folding and shaping the photographic paper inside a pinhole camera (with multiple pinholes) made out of a casting of one of those architectural details.
There’s more. But the pleasure is in the sum of the parts and, perhaps more than anything, a kind of pure fascination with photography’s basic ingredients—silver oxide and light—fixed to a piece of paper through a lens trained on a world of one’s own making. Similarly to the artists in this show, Meigs looks at art, as she puts it, with her “mind and body.” With great enthusiasm, Meigs will tell you a lot about each artist and every detail of how he or she works. That’s the mind part. But as her eyes widen and hands and arms reach to clutch each detail of these pieces and the ideas she wants to communicate, it’s not the words but the body that tells you why they are together in a series of rooms. And that’s just fine. Sometimes intuition speaks as eloquently as words.
Terrain Shift is on display through February 2 at the Lumber Room, 418 NW 9th Ave, Fri & Sat 11–5.