Located right across from the Oregon Historical Society Museum, the Portland Art Museum was founded in 1892 and is the oldest art museum in the Northwest. It used to be one of the most boring art museums in the Northwest, too, but that changed in the 1990s when dynamic new leadership stepped in and gave the museum some contemporary relevance and muscle. An expansion scheme in 2000 took over the adjacent Masonic Temple and added thousands of square feet of new exhibition space for the museum’s permanent collections and traveling shows.
The permanent collection begins with European Impressionists and moves right up to the present. However, the best reason to visit is to see the extensive collection of Native American art and artifacts; curators have, on occasion, paired the Native art with videos of artists creating the pieces, which help bring the work to life. The contemporary collection in the revamped Masonic Temple is worth a look, too, though I personally find that they have too much work on display, some good, but some mediocre; there are so many pieces hanging in close proximity that it can become a blur. The museum has also had some intriguing traveling shows of late. The small outdoor sculpture court has some very beautiful pieces. Plan to spend at least an hour here.