What to See at the Converge 45 Biennial in Portland

Whether or Not You're an "Art Person," It's Worth Checking Out
September 14, 2023
More from Our Portland Arts Guide
The group exhibition Assembly is staged across three downtown Portland venues and features 13 artists. (Assembly)
The free, citywide art biennial Converge 45 is in full swing, with artists showcased across dozens of spaces in Portland, including college campuses, the Portland Japanese Garden, and the Center for Native Arts and Cultures. The biennial's theme, Social Forms: Art as Global Citizenship, takes on topics of Amazon deforestation, indigeneity, citizenship, and immigration, and aims to amplify the voices and experiences of people of color, so you're bound to find a cause you can get behind. 


Whether or not you consider yourself an “art person,” Converge 45 is worth visiting—the biennial brings together local and further-flung artists whose work will likely be new to you, offering a window into the contemporary art world from venues all over town. (Seriously, you’ll find them in each of the city’s quadrants—there’s no reason to miss out.) I popped by PNCA, Stelo Arts, Reed College’s Cooley Gallery, and the Lloyd Center to dive into the biennial’s plentiful offerings. Here's what I recommend checking out for yourself.

Amanda Ross-Ho: ICE TIME
Remind List I was lucky enough to catch Los Angeles-based artist and one-time competitive figure skater Amanda Ross-Ho's performance at the Lloyd Center ice rink on Converge 45's opening weekend in August. The performance, which felt inextricably linked to the legacy of a certain infamous Olympian who learned to skate at Lloyd, saw Ross-Ho skate in a meditative figure eight formation. Her solo exhibition ICE TIME expands on this meditation with a further developed sense of repetition and muscle memory.
(ILY2, Pearl District, free, through Oct 28)

Jesse Murry: Rising Remind List
One of Converge 45's more somber and uniquely thought-provoking shows is Jesse Murry's Rising, a series of paintings accompanied by a video remembrance and a letterpress edition of his 1993 10-page poem Aphorisms, penned in the artist's last days before his death due to AIDS-related illness. Curated by Murry's friend and Yale classmate Lisa Yuskavage, the subtle abstract oil paintings showcased in Rising speak to his "lifelong belief in the capacity of painting to hold the complexity of human meaning," a hard-held conviction that carried Murry's practice through his final years.
(Reed College, Cooley Gallery, Southeast Portland, free, through Dec 3)

Assembly Remind List
This group exhibition explores, among other values, "ideas of identity, representation, inclusion, citizenship, labor, landscape, cityscape, ecology, trade, regionalism and globalism." If that sounds like a ton of ground to cover, you're right—but since Assembly is staged across three downtown Portland venues and features 13 artists, including consistently slick creatives like Vo Vo, Lisa Jarett, and Sara Siestream, I think it'll accomplish its goals. I recommend checking out the three-pronged show's installments at PNCA, where you'll find Jeremy Okai Davis’s heavy-hitting portraits and Adriene Cruz’s vibrant textiles, and Stelo Arts, where you'll find Judith Wyss's curious miniature dioramas and Jessica Jackson Hutchin's bulbous forms.
(Multiple locations, free, through Oct 8)

Rodrigo Valenzuela: Garabatos Remind List
The moody, gestural imagery of Rodrigo Valenzuela’s Garabatos was inspired by his research on the subcultures of Latin America’s music scene in the authoritarian aftermath of Operation Condor, a CIA-led initiative that organized South American military regimes to neutralize socialist agendas. Installed in PNCA's 511 gallery, the artist's new series of black and white photographs was developed from archival imagery, documentaries, and magazines, with a "vocabulary of gestures" translated into eerie sculptures. When photographed, the sculptures become representatives of a guttural, class-informed lexicon.
(PNCA, Pearl District, free, through Oct 7)

Rebirth, Rememory
Past Event List While you're at PNCA for Converge 45, stopping by Rebirth, Rememory is a no-brainer. Curated by Morgan Rice, PNCA's Low Residency in Visual Studies MFA Curatorial Fellow, the show “investigates colonial strategies of erasure via incarceration and selective history” through tarot card imagery, digital video installations, and more. I was moved by the inclusion of a bench with inscriptions carved by detainees at 511 NW Broadway from 2003-2013. (The school's building was once a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility.) The bench offers clear-cut evidence of one of the exhibition's central points—that mark-making has the power to combat institutional erasure.
(PNCA, Pearl District, free, through Sept 20)

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Richard Mosse: Occidental
Remind List Celebrated photographer Richard Mosse will display a series of photographs documenting oil spills from an abandoned pipeline in the Kichwa Indigenous Territory in the forested area of northwest Peru. The poignant images depict the devastating effects of human development on Indigenous lands and communities. ASHLEY GIFFORD
(Blue Sky Gallery, Pearl District, free, through Oct 22)

A Question of Hu: The Narrative Art of Hung Liu Remind List
Hung Liu (1948–2021) grew up during one of the most tumultuous periods in Chinese history and her work provides a personal point of view of that time, even as it remains outside the lens of propaganda and official narratives. Her narrative portrait and prints of immigrants, refugees, and soldiers weave and intertwine traditional Chinese and Western artistic methods, earning the description of “weeping realism” by her art critic husband. Curated by Christian Viveros-Fauné, this exhibition draws entirely from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation. AG
(Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Southwest Portland, free, through Dec 2)

Oregon Contemporary and Converge 45 presents Te Moana Meridian and One Hundred More Fires Remind List
Here you will find two works shown alongside one another, both proposing a reenvisioning: Te Moana Meridian is an opera on a multi-channel video by Aotearoa / New Zealand-born / Portland-based artist Sam Hamilton / Sam Tam Ham, wherein the artist presents ideas about a new center of the world. Then, in neon sculptural work, Bahamian-born, New York City-based artist Tavares Strachan brings to light the story of young Cuban Revolution revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos. AG
(Oregon Contemporary, Kenton, free, through Oct 7)

Yishai Jusidman: Prussian Blue
Remind List The color Prussian blue has a surprising history—created in the 18th century, it was one of the earliest artificially developed pigments used by European painters. The chemical compound that comprises Prussian blue also happens to be related to prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) in Zyklon B, a toxic gas used at some Nazi concentration and extermination camps, and traces of the pigment still remain as disturbing reminders of the Holocaust on the walls of gas chambers. Artist Yishai Jusidman engages with this strange overlap in his series Prussian Blue, rendered almost completely in the titular hue. JULIANNE BELL
(Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, Pearl District, $0 - $10, through Nov 26)


Black Artists of Oregon
Remind List The first of its kind to "consider the work of Black artists collectively in Oregon," PAM's fresh exhibition will showcase Black artists in and outside its collection, with special attention paid to underrepresented regional artists. Black Artists of Oregon thinks carefully about the African American experience in the Pacific Northwest, with pieces spanning the last 100 years by heavy hitters like Carrie Mae Weems and professional puppeteer Ralph Chessé. I'm particularly stoked for the exhibition because it was guest curated by Portland-based artist Intisar Abioto, whose own practice fills gaps in our region's history with critical context on lived Black experience. Read more from Jenni Moore in the Portland Mercury.
(Portland Art Museum, Southwest Portland, $0 - $25, through March 17)

Paul Swenbeck: Cross Quarters Merry Meet Past Event List
It's been a while since I've seen an exhibition as deliberately joyful as Paul Swenbeck's Cross Quarters Merry Meet. To enter the show, visitors duck beneath a wooden archway while a stoneware owl balances delicately above their heads. Beyond it, an installation of flowers tucked into bed, turtles looking skyward, and cartoonish monsters is framed by a kaleidoscopic curtain of colored chiffon. Swenbeck's work begs to be discovered—if you look closely, you might find a ceramic cat taking a nap, or another peering down from a ceiling-installed sculpture. Unsurprisingly, Swenbeck's approach pulls from diverse sources, like Jungian psychology, Hieronymus Bosch's mystical worlds, science fiction, and his time working at the Salem, Massachusetts Witch Dungeon Museum. The work feels fantastical and imaginative, but there's also an animistic edge embedded in Swenbeck's approach; the creatures that live in this show seem both symbolic and imbued with personality.
(Adams and Ollman, Northwest Portland, free, through Sept 16)

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