The Dope Elf, written and directed by Asher Hartman, Gawdafful National Theater, 2019, performed at Yale Union, Portland, Oregon (photo by Ian Byers-Gamber)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland, Oregon is a city characterized and caricatured as cultural, artsy, and hip — a reputation well-nourished by Portlandia’s parody of its hipster residents. Despite the city’s longtime association with and attraction of creative types, its visual art world has garnered little national acknowledgement. However, Portland’s museums and galleries deserve your attention as much as its roses, bridges, craft beer, and quirky restaurants. 

Institutions such as the Pacific Northwest College of Art, University of Oregon, University of Portland, and Tin House have long attracted artists and intellectuals to Portland. Today, its art world is growing: several new galleries opened last year, the Portland Art Museum is expanding, and publications such as Art & About PDX and 60 Inch Center have emerged in response to this growth. The city even has an incendiary anonymous critic who publishes under Try Harder PDX and has been calling for honest, robust art criticism in order to help the city’s institutions better serve local artists and their communities. 

This compilation of venues (while not exhaustive), ranges from stalwart museums to emerging artists’ collectives, offering a cross-section of the spaces defining art in Portland now. 


View of the east entrance plaza of the Portland Art Museum (architectural rendering courtesy of Vinci Hamp Architects)

Portland Art Museum

Where: 1219 SW Park Avenue, Portland, OR
Hours: 10am–5pm, Tuesday through Sunday ($20 adults, $17 students and seniors, children free)

The Portland Art Museum (PAM) has been collecting and exhibiting since 1892, making it one of the oldest art museums in the United States (the oldest being the Wadsworth Atheneum founded in 1842 in Hartford, Connecticut). The permanent collection reflects the history of the city, with specialities in Native American art, Asian art, and American art and photography. The museum’s expansion project, the Rothko Pavilion, was announced in 2016 and will be completed in 2021, including a more accessible entrance, rooftop deck, sculpture garden, and glass-walled public viewing area. 

PAM is the place to see everything from ancient Roman sculpture to a Monet, to a Wendy Red Star, to the doodles of visitors scribbled on interactive conversation boards. One highlight is the Center for Contemporary Native Art, which exhibits two rotating shows of living Native artists each year, and also integrates contemporary pieces into the other Native American galleries. 

Don’t Miss: Hank Willis Thomas All Things Being Equal, on view through January 31, and its accompanying film series.

To complement his major solo exhibition at PAM, Hank Willis Thomas has curated a film series that contemplates race and mass media in the United States. Screenings include James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (1989), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde (1995), and An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2012), among others. 

Blue Sky, the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts 

Where: 122 NW 8th Avenue, Portland OR
Hours: 12pm–5pm, Tuesday through Sunday (free admission)

Blue Sky is a nonprofit gallery that has exhibited contemporary photography in Portland for over 40 years, in which time they’ve amassed an extensive collection of Northwest artists. The space includes two galleries that showcase local photographers, and a public library and archive. Visitors can peruse flat file drawers of Northwest photography, with prints available for purchase ranging from $50 and up. Overall, the space is both decidedly unpretentious and filled with compelling work by local artists. 

Don’t Miss: Blue Sky Ahead: Founders, an exhibition up through November 3.

This is the first installment of a two-part exhibition series exploring the past and future of photography in Oregon. Founders showcases the work of the gallery’s progenitors, and Blue Sky Ahead: Futures, opening November 7, will showcase emerging photographers. 

Disjecta Portland Biennial 2019, curated by Yaelle S. Amir, Elisheba Johnson and Ashley Stull Meyers (photo by Mario Gallucci)

Disjecta Contemporary Art Center 

Where: 8371 North Interstate Avenue, Portland, OR
Hours: 12pm–5pm, Friday through Sunday (free admission)

This nonprofit gallery exhibits contemporary art in the northern Kenton neighborhood, and has been an integral player in Portland’s art scene for 15 years. While Disjecta exhibits work from around the country, it’s especially known for its biennial that features all Oregon artists. The space has hosted the Portland Biennial since 2010, with its fifth iteration up through November 3. 

Don’t Miss: Biennial Closing Reception and Panel on Saturday, November 2, beginning at 4:30pm.

Each biennial includes public events and lectures, and this year the program will end with a panel discussion featuring the middle school curatorial team who wrote the exhibition’s labels, followed by a closing reception. 

Matt Bennett Laurents (image courtesy Carnation Contemporary)

Carnation Contemporary

Where: 8371 N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR 
Hours: 12pm–5pm, Friday through Sunday (free admission)

Right next door to Disjecta, Carnation Contemporary is one of the newest spaces in Portland, just opened in 2018. Exhibitions present critical, provocative pieces across media, with an emphasis on conceptual work. They prioritize local art through a membership collective: a group of 14 Portland artists who both run and show their work in the gallery. 

Don’t Miss: Faceland, an exhibition opening on November 2.

Carnation member Matt Bennett Laurents will have a solo exhibition throughout November. Laurents’s colorful, smiling ceramics engage with the history of craft to, in his words, “explore the potential of objects as vessels for spiritual and emotional energy.” 

Yutaka Matsuzawa, installation view, Yale Union, Portland, Oregon (2019) (photo by Leif Anderson)

Yale Union

Where: 800 SE 10th Avenue, Portland, OR
Hours: Open hours are posted online, and offered by appointment

Yale Union is a nonprofit gallery founded and run by artists in an airy loft space in the Buckman area. Their exhibitions are particularly heterogeneous, with a recent show of installation and writing changed out for an ongoing performance. The organization prides itself on unconventional, experimental artists, and their most recent show The Dope Elf delivered: an ongoing theatrical residency that critically (and goofily) examined pop culture’s interest in magic and mysticism, which also live streamed on their website. 

“Back to School Kiki Ball” (image by Amie Lee King, courtesy Portland Institute for Contemporary Art)

Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Where: 15 NE Hancock St, Portland, OR 97212
Hours: Vary daily, see programming calendar

Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) is a nonprofit offering the most interactive and performance-based events and exhibitions in Portland. Program highlights include an annual sex workers’ art show and the organization’s flagship event: the Time-Based Arts Festival (TBA), a 10-day celebration of performance held every September. TBA spreads music, dance, theatre, and performance art pieces across the city, with performers (and visitors) coming from around the globe to participate. 

Don’t Miss: Lecture by Emi Koyama, “Art, Activism, & Publishing in Sex Work,” on November 6, 6:30–8pm.

Emi Koyama is a feminist activist and writer who will give a lecture in conversation with the ongoing exhibition No Human Involved: The 5th Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show, showing at PICA, November 8–December 14. 

Maria Antelman at Melanie Flood Projects (image courtesy Melanie Flood)

Melanie Flood Projects

Where: 420 SW Washington St #301, Portland, OR 
Hours: 12pm–5pm, Friday and Saturday, and by private appointment (free admission)

Melanie Flood is a tiny gallery on the second floor of a downtown walkup, exhibiting contemporary art with an emphasis on photography. The project began in Flood’s apartment in Brooklyn, but in 2014 she relaunched it as a gallery space in Portland. Intimate exhibitions are curated by Flood and have expanded to include other media such as video and sculpture. 

Don’t Miss: Incidental Gestures, exhibition on view through November 2.

Incidental Gestures compares and contrasts the work of New York–based artists Maria Antelman and Jules Gimbrone, both of whom combine photography and sculpture to construct and document moments of gendered and sexual fluctuation. Exhibited side by side, their work questions the ways bodies are shaped by technology.

Carter Mull at Private Places (photo by Jason Horvath, image courtesy the artists and Private Places)

Private Places

Where: 2400 NE Holladay Street, Portland, OR
Hours: Gallery hours announced on Instagram, but mostly open by appointment

Private Places is another scrappy, smaller space which has come to be a hidden gem for local artists. Exhibitions vary from serious to tongue-in-cheek, finding creative ways to utilize the space that also serves as artist-founder Bobbi Woods’s studio.  

Don’t Miss: Perverted by Language, exhibition open through November 8.

In this exhibition, roommate-artists Mark Flores and William E. Jones play off 1970s pop culture to collaborate on a series of magazine-style spreads. 

Installation and details of A Thirst for Saltwater: Lehuauakea Fernandez at Fuller Rosen (photo courtesy Ryan Patrick Krueger)

Fuller Rosen Gallery

Where: 2505 SE 11th Ave., Suite 106, Portland, OR
Hours: 10am–5pm, Thursdays through Sundays, or by appointment (free admission)

Just opened in 2018, Fuller Rosen is run by two queer women who put emerging artists first. Their exhibitions range from regional to national and across media, and typically consist of solo shows. The small garage-front space has become a favorite of contemporary artists and critics in the city. 

Don’t Miss: A Thousand Cuts, exhibition open November 16–January 10.

A Thousand Cuts is an exhibition that explores pop culture’s representations of trans people through a video collage of transgender characters played by cis actors. An opening reception will be held November 16, 6–9pm. 

Jeffry Mitchell: Tyger Tyger at PDX Contemporary Art (photo by Mario Galluci)

PDX Contemporary Art

Where: 925 NW Flanders St, Portland, OR
Hours: 11am–6pm, Tuesday through Saturday (free admission)

PDX Contemporary is one of the city’s oldest commercial galleries, exhibiting in the Pearl District for over 20 years. Monthly shows vary between local and visiting artists, with a special vestibule viewable from the street dubbed the PDX Window Project. 

Don’t Miss: Nationale presents Aruni Dharmakirthi | No Flowers in Eden, a PDX Window Project through November 2. 

Aruni Dharmakirthi’s bright, colorful collages stitch together elements of myth, textile histories, and female archetypes to connect ancient narratives with the contemporary world. 

Raechel Herron Root is a writer and graduate student in art history at the University of Oregon. Her writing and research examines contemporary art that deals with issues of space, place, urbanism, and...

4 replies on “Shining a Light on Portland’s Art Scene: 10 Exciting Venues in the Rose City”

  1. I felt this article gave me incredible insight on the art scene in Portland! It’s articles like these that help support our local museums and galleries…thank you!

  2. This list is a pleasant surprise, I was expecting the usual parade of ancient galleries with the same old ownership and names bandied about.

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