In what promises to be the most interesting exhibition of the season, eight local artists have created site-specific, fantasy-themed work that takes a fresh look and creates a new feel for the historic Victoria Mansion in Portland.
“Victoria’s Wonderama” opens Friday and will remain on display through April 21. The exhibition will also be open for special hours during the First Friday Art Walk on April 6, with a reduced admission price of $5.
Those involved are some of the best-known contemporary artists working locally today: Greta Bank, Stephen Burt, Tom Couture, Brendan Ferri, Mike Libby, Christian Matzke, Scott Peterman and David Twiss.
They’ve created new work that builds on the wonder and fantasy of the Victoria Mansion and the Victorian culture that was prevalent when the house was built in the late 1850s.
Lisa Pixley, a Portland printmaker, curated the show.
“I was having dinner with some friends, and we were talking about how fun it would be if we did a younger-demo event at the Victoria Mansion,” Pixley said. “It’s just such an interesting place, and offers a window into another era.”
The motivating idea behind “Victoria’s Wonderama” is based on fantasy and wonder.
The mansion itself, which was built as a summer home for a wealthy family, is way over the top. The pre-Civil War structure is ornate and spectacular; palatial in its scale and proportions.
Its interiors feature elegant furniture, period lighting fixtures, carpets, stained glass, silver, glassware and porcelain. The painted trompe l’oeil wall and ceiling decorations blend with gilded surfaces, intricate plaster work, oversized mirrors and engulfing fabrics. It is embarrassingly lavish, designed to showcase the wealth of its owners.
The Victoria Mansion is significant because it remains one of America’s finest surviving examples of architecture and interior design from that period. The interiors are 90 percent intact from the time of their creation, and as such, the house stands as a time capsule to an era that sometimes feels more distant than it actually is.
For the show, Pixley recruited artists whose work she associates with fantasy and who bend the line between make-believe and reality.
“They had such an over-the-top fantasy life during the Victorian era. In society and all the cultural mores and how they interacted with each other, it was so rich, and had to support that fantasy with the objects they surrounded themselves with,” she said.
“I wanted to call on artists who play with that idea in their work. The people we recruited are artists who realize fantasy through the physicality of the objects they create.”
Bank will exhibit tooled leather sculptures and re-imagined furniture. Twiss shows a shroud made of intricate cut lace.
Peterman, who is best known for his photographs of ice shacks, explores lenticular photography, which is a holographic medium traditionally used in toys and novelty cards. Couture will show a series of photos that depict narratives within the mansion.
Libby, who creates insects made with mechanical parts, will present a large trompe-l’oeil tableau that reflects the painted work in the house. Burt takes inspiration from the stained glass windows to create a painted glass window.
Matzke creates work that reflects an alternate reality in which Portland has been conquered by Mars invaders. Similarly, Ferri taps into the idea of an alternate universe by presenting a machine lost in time along with other technologies.
The new work is distributed through the house. Almost every room features something new to complement the old, offering visitors the chance for a complete and revealing tour.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or [email protected]