From bad to Wurst

In every corner of our fair city art galleries are popping up faster than prefab condos, and there seems to be a growing sense of quadrant loyalty among art patrons in Portland. Do you support the traditional high-minded “Art” that defines most of the art you’ll see on First Thursdays in Northwest, or do you prefer the free-spirited sense of haggle and craft that has come to define Northeast’s offerings? Or maybe art in Southeast gets you going with its amalgam of the two sensibilities-galleries that encompass every facet of the high-to-low spectrum.

What if the best gallery in Portland didn’t exist in any of these quadrants, or any physical location in the city? What if Portland’s most original and exciting outlet for local art and artists was online? What if the best was Wurst?

The Wurst Gallery is the brainchild of Jason Sturgill and was created as an outlet for artists to extend their scope and audience. With its ability, via the information superhighway, to link to artist’s work and crafts, it serves the purpose of a full-functioning boutique, giving you instantaneous and complete access to extensive bodies of work.

Gallery-generated projects embrace the sense of disobedience that has come to embody the work of Portland’s younger artists. The lines between illustration and craft are not only blurred, but also embraced, and with a roster that includes the finest new names from Portland and beyond, shows become as visceral as they are novel.

With “Vintage Vandals,” Wurst curated an international show of re-imagined thrift-store paintings discovered and improved by artists ranging from Australia’s Andy Sargent to Portland’s Driscoll Reid. And while the idea of remaindered paintings and photos is both funny and ultimately disposable, the craft of the work and the quality of the ideas is absolutely amazing. The viewer is able to see both the final work and its pre-improved image by passing over the image with a mouse. Comparing the two images provides an insight into the artists’ process and ideas.

Wurst features not only the artist’s work but the movements they hold dear, providing the viewer an intimate look at the people who are defining our local scene.

Other shows include a series of craft plates designed for children to decorate (and available for sale on the web site) adorned with intricate work from all over the world. The shortcomings of the plate project itself are the thin, cheap markers required for the drawings and the limited palette. But this forced artists whose typical media often define their work to rethink their process, and afforded the patron/consumer a unique opportunity to own an original, albeit somewhat silly, set of dishes.

In addition to painting over paintings and plates, Wurst’s “From Russia With Love” features Russian nesting dolls hand decorated by local superstars ranging from Audio Dregs mastermind e*rock to the ubiquitous Martin Ontiveros, Bwana Spoons and Carson Ellis. Each set of dolls is amazingly crafted and completely different from its counterparts, adding a modern beauty to the centuries-old craft.

It’s understandable if the idea of an online-only gallery leaves you chilly. Seeing art in electronic form tends to limit the strength of their texture, shape and form. But like the world of Tron, Wurst extends into the physical realm as well as the electronic. Actual showings of the work have invaded such high-class spaces as the now defunct Savage Art Resources and the Design Within Reach store. And Wurst embraces its accessibility, curating and championing shows featuring its cadre of artists. But more than anything, Wurst is an electronic resource that globalizes a Portland gallery as well as Portland artists.