LUMBER ROOM
Thru Feb 2
Fri & Sat 11–5
419 NW Ninth Ave.
lumberroom.com

In Portland’s recent curatorial enterprises, intuition is mostly relegated to second string. The Portland Art Museum’s choices are led by established résumés—or by the urge to establish them. Reed College’s and the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s often excellent exhibitions are driven by intellectual and pedagogical concerns. Outlier independents like Jeff Jahn often keep their stronger eye on regional (and self-) promotion. Nothing new here: these are the conceits that make art worlds. But like an unexpected blast of sun in January, Portland has desperately needed the combination of guts, good eyes, and soul of Sarah Miller Meigs’s Lumber Room. 

Miller Meigs is one of the—if not the—most driven contemporary art collectors in Portland. At her open-two-days-per-week loft, the Lumber Room, she’s previously invited talents like artist Storm Tharp and Reed curator Stephanie Snyder to assemble shows. But with Terrain Shift, Miller Meigs has stepped into the curator’s role. This show, nearly all photography, looks beyond au courant fascinations with cinema and subtle (or 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 or untried elsewhere in town, she (with some helpful hanging advice from Snyder) beautifully juxtaposes international, national, and local artists because they are exploring similar concepts—and simply feel good together. 

As you walk in the front entrance, Los Angeles–based Jennifer West’s Nirvana Alchemy Film loops a chemically altered 16 mm film of her kids jumping to an unheard soundtrack of the famed Seattle grunge band. In the large room, which Miller Meigs calls the “yard,” dozens of color photographs by Virginia-based artist Corin Hewitt document the multiday residency he did in 2007 at Portland’s now-defunct gallery Small A Projects, where, like some sort of unhinged chef, he created a series of improvisations in clay, pasta, and who knows what else. In the loft’s bedroom, London artist Elizabeth McAlpine’s series Line Drawings comprises photographs of black-tape shapes that she pasted across the subtle curves of interior architectural details—one of which she cast to make a pinhole camera (with several pinholes) to expose the multiple direct paper-negative print The Map of Exactitude #12. 

The pleasure is in the sum of the parts and the artists’ pure fascination with photography’s basic ingredients—silver oxide and light—fixed to a piece of paper, turned on a subject of one’s own making. Miller Meigs looks at art, as she puts it, with her “mind and body.” With great enthusiasm, she will talk about each artist and his process. That’s the mind part. But as her hands and arms reach to express her belief in their ideas, it’s clear how much the feeling has so eloquently guided her eye.