About The Biennial

The Portland Biennial is a major survey of Oregon visual artists who are defining and advancing the state’s contemporary arts landscape. It continues the tradition of the Oregon Biennial, originated by the Portland Art Museum in 1949. With the end of the Museum’s Biennial in 2006, Oregon artists lost a longstanding platform for career advancement. In 2010, Disjecta introduced a refreshed Biennial with new aspirations—guest curators would be invited to lead the program; multiple venues would expand artists’ ability to display more ambitious, and more representative, works; and the broader platform would engage new and larger audiences. Three Biennials, 58 artists and 15,000 plus visitors later, the Biennial takes another giant leap forward this year.

Disjecta selected Michelle Grabner, a nationally recognized curator, artist, educator and community-builder from Milwaukee, to lead the 2016 Biennial. Grabner brings an impressive range of experience to the post; she is a dedicated teacher, a celebrated artist, and served as co-curator of the 2014 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art. “Michelle is an artist advocate. She places preeminent value on the studio practice—and conversations in, and about, the studio inform her curatorial interest,” says Disjecta Director Bryan Suereth. To that end, Grabner reviewed over 400 applicants and conducted 107 studio visits, traveling over 1800 miles throughout Oregon—the most comprehensive survey of Oregon artists ever.

At the heart of Grabner’s vision for Portland2016 is an investigation into regionalism, particularly how artists working in specific locations often reflect their geography and culture; and more broadly, how these local dynamics impact the global art world in a time of decentralization.“From La Grande to Ashland, I was looking for work that addressed global realities as much as it embraced radical regionalism. By listening attentively to the language that frames artists’ imaginations while witnessing the space of making, my 107 studio visits yielded a treasure of exhilarating work,” says Grabner.

Disjecta’s 6,000-square-foot headquarters in North Portland serves as the main venue for the Biennial; however, the exhibition has always expanded to partner spaces throughout Portland, making it particularly accessible and uniquely citywide. And in 2016, for the first time, the Biennial will extend beyond the Portland Metro area by activating 13 communities around the state from Ashland and The Dalles to La Grande and Astoria. Works from 34 artists are featured in 25 partner venues, dramatically expanding access for audiences while concurrently celebrating the unique landscapes and culture of Oregon.

Portland2010 was curated by then-Linfield College Gallery Director Cris Moss. The exhibition spanned nine venues throughout Portland and included 19 Oregon artists. Portland2012 presented the work of 24 artists at five venues and was curated by Prudence F. Roberts, former curator of American Art at the Portland Art Museum. Portland2014 was curated by Amanda Hunt, Associate Curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and included 15 artists. This amassing of talent under the biennial banner led critic and writer Richard Speer to note, “Disjecta is one of the Pacific Northwest’s most vital and important arts nonprofits.”


About the Curator

Michelle Grabner has created a multi-faceted and dynamic career by incorporating writing, curating and teaching with a studio practice grounded in process and productivity. She is founder and co-director, along with her husband Brad Killiam, of three artist spaces that embody new models for facilitating and presenting artists’ projects: The Suburban, in both Riverwest and Walker’s Point, WI; and The Poor Farm, a year-long exhibition space at the former Waupaca County Poor Farm in Little Wolf, WI. Her criticism and essays are published in Artforum, Modern Painters, Frieze, Art Press, and Art-Agenda, among others. In 2014 Grabner was one of three curators for the prestigious Whitney Biennial.

As an artist, Grabner works in variety of mediums including drawing, painting, video and sculpture. Over four dozen solo exhibitions of her work have been organized by galleries and institutions including the Indianapolis Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland; INOVA, The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Ulrich Museum, Wichita, KS; and University Galleries, Illinois State University. Her work is in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Milwaukee Art Museum; DaimlerChrysler Collection, Berlin; Musee d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg; Mudam Museum, Luxembourg; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Grabner joined the faculty of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996, becoming Chair of its Painting and Drawing department in 2009. She has taught at Yale University, Bard College, The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the University of Wisconsin, the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the University of Pennsylvania. Grabner holds an MA in Art History and a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University. As David Norr writes in the introduction to her solo exhibition at MoCA, Cleveland, “All of Grabner’s activities are driven by distinctive values and ideas: working outside of dominant systems, working tirelessly, working across platforms and towards community.”

About Disjecta

Disjecta Contemporary Art Center builds ambitious programs that promote artists and engage communities. Since its founding in 2000, Disjecta has grown to become one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier contemporary arts center by providing career-defining opportunities for emerging and mid-career curators and artists to push the boundaries of their practice. Now in its fifteenth year, Disjecta offers year-round visual and performing arts in one of the largest facilities in the state, and has served over 100,000 artists and community members.

In 2013, The Guardian newspaper (U.K.) named Disjecta one of the top ten cultural hotspots in Portland, and in 2015 Disjecta was recognized as “a beloved Portland cultural institution” and honored with Portland Monthly Magazine’s “Light-a-Fire” award for Inspiring Creativity. In support of the prize, Portland Commissioner Nick Fish declared Disjecta to be “conspicuous in both its vision and determination, and in the quality of the art that it presents to the community.”