Visual Art

The Coolest Gallery Shows in Portland Right Now

Warped first ladies, tape recorder séances, anti-war car photographs, and more

By Conner Reed

Convinced there's nothing better than strolling into a gallery or a museum, reading little placards, nodding, making asides to your date or your friend or thin air? Us too. So we've done a little curating of our own.

We've rounded up the most worthwhile viewing experiences on offer in Portland right now, spanning photography, digital, and site-specific work. Most are free to attend, some require tickets or appointments, and all make worthy re-intros to IRL art if you're just starting to venture back out.

Check back regularly for updated picks, and happy nodding.

American Interiors

M L Casteel's Untitled, Gun & Hamburger, 2015

Matthew "M L" Casteel's series about the intimate psychological repercussions of war opened at the Pearl District's Blue Sky Gallery at the beginning of July. For the series, Casteel photographed the interiors of veterans' cars over a five-year period, capturing the head-spinning overlap of faith, despair, violence, sanctuary, and disarray that categorized their lives. In 2018, Casteel published the photos in a book, where they share space with a number of essays. Noon–5 p.m. Wed–Sat, Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW Eighth Ave, FREE

A Black Art Ecology of Portland

The latest installment in the Portland Art Museum's APEX series, which spotlights Northwest artists, belongs to Sharita Towne, who spoke about the project in New York Times piece last summer. Towne, a multidisciplinary artist and faculty member at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, started this "ecology" in 2019, and it's spanned site-specific work, COVID relief, video pieces, events, murals, and more. Her yearlong PAM residency, which begins in July, will feature past pieces of art, play host to a rolling roster of events, and feature new and changing pieces as it goes on, all with the goal of spotlighting and carving space for Portland's Black residents. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed–Sun through July 2022, Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave, $17–20

A Feast of Light and Shadows

Marianne Nicolson, a First Nations artist born in British Columbia, has transformed Southeast Portland's Yale Union building into a meditation on the Potlatch, a celebratory Indigenous ritual banned by the Canadian government for nearly 70 years. Her exhibition comes alive in the light, featuring colored etchings on the space's enormous windows, plus basins, photographs, and more. Read her exhibition pamphlet here for a more in-depth look at the methods and meanings of Nicolson's exhibition. 4–8 p.m. Wed–Thu, 2–6 p.m. Fri–Sun, June 30–Aug 29, Yale Union, 800 SE 10th Ave, FREE

I Am My Story: Voices of Hope

A photo of the shirt Olive Bukuru wore when she immigrated to Oregon, accompanied by handwritten recollections

Image: Jim Lommasson

The latest collaboration between The Immigrant Story and Oregon Historical Society focuses on six women who've come to Oregon from Burundi, Congo, and Eritrea. Featuring their portraits, words, and photographs of the objects they brought with them from Africa to Oregon, the exhibition is an extension of Jim Lomasson’s What We Carried series. Noon–5 p.m. Weds–Fri & Sun, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat through Aug 22, Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave, FREE to MultCo residents, others $5–10

A Letter from Souls of the Dead

The first American solo exhibition by musician and visual artist Aki Onda, A Letter from Souls of the Dead marries sound, photography, found objects, and prints, to elicit séance and other forms of interspiritual communication. It features field recordings, busted tape recorders, bells, slide projections, and more, and Onda will periodically perform at PICA's NE Hancock space throughout the course of the exhibition. Noon–6 p.m. Thu–Fri, noon–4 p.m. Sat–Sun, through Sept 4, PICA, 15 NE Hancock St, FREE

Time Being

This group show—the first to open at North Portland’s newly renamed Oregon Contemporary (formerly Disjecta)—features works by Lisa JarretBean Gilsdorf, and several others, that distort the figure to tease out questions about our physical relationship with time. Through-the-looking-glass renderings of our most famous First Ladies, spools of human hair, surreal self-portraits, and sublime sculpted objects combine to question how the turning of the planet helps, hurts, and changes our bodies. Noon–5 p.m. Fri–Sun through Aug 8, Oregon Contemporary, 8371 N Interstate Ave, FREE