When I reviewed the 2011 Biennial at the Portland Museum of Art, I called Carly Glovinski’s “Cheeseburger Wrapper” — a crumpled drawing pretending to be disrespectfully discarded detritus — the “wittiest piece in the show.” I also lauded her walkway of sheared phone books for its ironic invisibility, as it was trod upon by all who entered the exhibition.

These pieces were so intriguing for their hide-and-seek challenge that I wondered how an entire show of Glovinski’s work would hold up, since hiding in a forest of art seemed to be what they did best.

Just two months later, we all get to see Glovinski’s first solo gallery show at the June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland. The result is exhilarating. Her strategies of veiling are great fun without ever approaching the haughty pratfalls of those urbane (but fortunately rare) artists who try to opaquely “outsmart” the audience. The title, “Decoy,” fairly hints of magic tricks, bait-and-switch gaming and illusion for the sake of entertainment.

One virtually invisible piece is one of the most revealing. It looks like a used Popsicle stick, stained and wearing a joke only answered after eating. “Why did the tree stay home from school?” it asks, only to answer, “Because it was a sick-a-more tree.”

Yet, it is not a Popsicle stick but a carved piece of sycamore with the words drawn in ink and dye. The only way we know this is by reading the exhibition checklist. Thus, Glovinski has made the checklist part of the show much the way the answer to the joke was revealed only by “finishing” the fictional frozen treat.

Glovinski’s twists on “reading” works of art are delicious. Indulging in experience, she hints, is the means by which to savor her substance. “Decoy” is all about transformation and illusion while insisting upon a vocabulary of illusion, thereby bridging the techniques of the American trompe l’oeil painters to the late Cubist investigations of Picasso, Malevich and those who followed in their wake.

One such artist was Robert Rauschenberg, who, as an unknown in 1953, had the courage to ask America’s most famous contemporary painter of the time, Willem DeKooning, for an important drawing — so he could erase it. DeKooning selected a drawing he “would miss,” but didn’t make it easy for Rauschenberg. The crayon, ink and colored-pencil drawing took him a full month to erase.

Glovinski feeds on such conceptual logic. Her pencil drawing “Totem” seems simple but for the erased (still visible) electrical outlet. Moreover, the object list insists that the main material is acrylic, and I still don’t know if that’s a joke or a mistake — but it certainly made me scour the drawing with an eye to trickery.

Other works make virtuoso plays of presence/absence. “True Grit” features a sliver of maple veneer standing on a maple veneer panel. It has a fake shadow that competes with the real shadow — just enough to draw you away from noticing that the markings on the sliver comprise a drawing and factory-printed information.

“Pollen” looks like a small bottle of pollen accidently spilled over a discarded box, but it is placed under another drawing to practically force you to step on the floor element. To complicate things further, Glovinski set the box at an angle from the “shadow” created by the spilled “pollen” (actually pigment) so that it seems someone (you?) bumped the box from its intended placement. It’s a piece that quickly switches from invisible to playfully alarming.

Most impressive is the hand-drawn, cut and stamped picnic cloth held to the floor by four stones. It defies traditional categories of drawing or installation. But even more fun is a pencil-and-ink stamp replica of a corner of the main post office in Portland that took three days to create on site. It is a direct reminder that Glovinski’s hide-and-seek game is based on recognition.

The piece that best hides in the open is a bright-orange extension cord — actually painted aluminum tubing with cast paper plugs and “duct tape” mending with a hand-drawn label. A fake dishrag hanging in the window is gorgeously compelling, but I prefer the brash camouflage of the extension cord to its delicately refined flavor.

Glovinski’s largest group of works is a series of six drawings of the edges of phone books. While these exude an intellectual elegance tied to the abstracted aesthetics of data management, they feel like studies leading toward an idea not yet fully formed. Alone, any might be more satisfying than the “Cheeseburger Wrapper,” but their open-ended logic, though standard for contemporary drawing, pales in the context of Glovinski’s otherwise effervescent wit.

“Decoy” reveals that Glovinski is for real, and why so many museums are enthralled by her. If she can keep developing such curatorial challenges, she could be great.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

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