Mention “Put a bird on it” to a Portlander and you’ll undoubtedly be met with a groan and an eye roll.
The television series “Portlandia” may have put the city and its artistic eccentricities on the map, but it has also become a common source of annoyance for locals. Portland has long been foraging and cultivating an exciting and dynamic arts scene that’s much more sophisticated and historic than a felt bird applique.
We’ve put together our favorite galleries that represent the exciting contemporary art scene of the Rose City.
Located in Portland’s artsy Peal District, Yale Union is an artist-run organization held within an historic brick warehouse. Originally a laundry in the early 20th century, the warehouse was converted into an art space in 2008. Representing a variety of mediums—performances, screenings, and print publications—the gallery is supported by a number of local founders as well as a recent $60,000 endowment form Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Behind an unmarked warehouse door in the Pearl District lies one of the city’s best-kept secrets, the Lumber Room. Owned by Oregon philanthropist Sarah Miller Meigs (whose grandfather Harold Miller made his fortune with Stimson Lumber Co.). Lumber Room features works from her personal collection as well as acts as an incubator space for engaging and challenging artworks. Meigs’s artistic directions leans towards contemporary art in conversation with modern art history, her most public donation was a $1 million to the Portland Art Gallery for exhibitions including Damien Hirst and Cy Twombly.
At the apartment-style gallery (to which visitors must be buzzed in), guests may be lucky enough to stumble into a show featuring Agnes Martin, Tracy Emin, or Sol Lewit. Unexpected, but welcome.
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
Next door to the Lumber Room and featuring with actual signage and an open door, is Elizabeth Leach Gallery. The long-running gallery opened in 1981 and has been a staple in the city ever since. The space shows works from iconic artists such as John Baldessari and Gee’s Bend, as well as more works from more emergent artists like Joanna Pousette-Dart and Amanda Wojick.
Nationale, much like the city itself, is laid-back and approachable. Mixing together art-objects, traditional fine art, and boutique goods the space features a roster of mostly Pacific Northwest-based contemporary artists like illustrator Carson Ellis (whose work includes The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket) and painter Amy Bernstein. Here, art prints under $1,000 are available as well as sculpture, magazines, and local beauty products. And not a felt bird in sight.