With its latest exhibition, the Bates College Museum of Art is going places few museums have dared go before.

The Lewiston museum has just opened an ambitious new exhibition, “Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography.” It’s among the first major exhibitions examining the photography of astronomical objects and the night sky.

This show, on view through Dec. 15, features 106 images by 35 artists representing 11 countries across five continents, said curator Anthony Shostak.

“Their creations are nothing less than overwhelming, depicting humbling, glorious delights that are often invisible to both the naked eye and even the telescope, and are revealed only through photographic means,” Shostak said.

The Bates show is among several major visual arts exhibitions opening across Maine and ushering in a summer of viewership opportunities for painting and photography. While most of the shows concentrate on traditional fine-art fair, the Bates show is way out there in literal and figurative ways.

Bates selected nine artists to participate in the show. The rest were chosen by a jury consisting of Weston Naef, curator emeritus of photography at the J. Paul Getty Museum; Dennis di Cicco, senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine; and Jerry T. Bonnell, co-editor and author of NASA’s web feature “Astronomy Picture of the Day.”

Naef attended the opening at Bates earlier this month and delivered a lecture on the topic, which is hardly a phenomenon. The night sky, moon and stars have captivated man and driven much of our understanding of the universe since the beginning of time. Photographers have captured images since the earliest days of the medium. Indeed, one of the images in this show is an early black-and-white photograph by photography pioneer Alfred Stieglitz.

But with the advent of technology, the images have become more profound and inspiring. Witness Yuichi Takasaka’s mind-blowing time-lapse image of star trails and the Northern Lights reflected on a water surface.

The topic is both timely and popular. Maine has seven astronomy societies, said Shostak, and “Starstruck” is unique among fine-art museums. There have been a few smaller shows examining the topic, but none on the scale of the Bates show, he said.

Throughout the run of the show, Bates will offer a variety of educational programming, including lectures, workshops, star parties, theatrical performances and films.

OTHER EXHIBITIONS opening this week and next at Maine art museums include:

The Portland Museum of Art opens its major summer show, “The Draw of the Normandy Coast,” today. It includes more than 40 paintings by some of the world’s best-known and most celebrated painters, including Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, George Inness and Camille Pisassro.

The exhibition, on view through Labor Day, documents the draw of the Normandy coast of France. Painters flocked there to capture images of the cliffs, boats at port and the summer lifestyle along the beaches. It’s a glamorous, spry show, with many feel-good paintings that make you want to rush off to the coast of Maine to experience similar scenes.

Many of the paintings in the exhibition came from the museum’s permanent collection and the Scott M. Black Collection, which is on long-term loan to the PMA. But curator Margaret Burgess and museum director Mark Bessire also worked their connections to borrow many key paintings from other institutions across the United States and Canada.

To read more about the “Normandy” show and to view a slide show of some of the works on view, visit www.pressherald.com/life/audience.

The Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Friday, when it is open to 9 p.m. Admission is $12; $10 for seniors and students; $6 for ages 13 to 17; and free for ages 12 and younger. 775-6148; portlandmuseum.org

The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland opens a major exhibition of about 70 works on Sunday in the museum’s Morehouse wing: “Impressionist Summers: Frank W. Benson’s North Haven.”

Benson (1862-1951) spent a lot of time at his summer home, Wooster Farm, on North Haven, 13 miles off the coast from Rockland, and that’s where he created almost all of his sun-drenched Impressionist paintings. Through those paintings (both oil and watercolor), drypoints, etchings and lithographs, the exhibition illustrates the important ways in which life on North Haven affected Benson’s art.

“Impressionist Summers” is organized by guest curator Faith Andrews Bedford.

The Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum St., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Wednesday, when it is open to 8 p.m. Admission is $12; $10 for seniors and students; and free for ages 16 and younger. 596-6457; farnsworthmuseum.org

The Ogunquit Museum of American Art opens two new shows beginning June 21: “Peggy Bacon: Life in Art” and “The Art of Will Barnet.”

Bacon is an internationally known printmaker and painter who summered in Ogunquit before settling in Cape Porpoise. This show features her art of Ogunquit, books with hand-drawn portraits in the front pages that she gave as gifts, hand-made dolls and woven rugs.

The Barnet show focuses on his paintings and prints, and will include a reception with the 100-year-old artist from 5 to 7 p.m. July 7. Both shows are on view through Aug. 12.

Ogunquit Museum of American Art, 543 Shore Road, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $10; $9 for seniors and students; and free for ages 11 and younger. 646-4909; ogunquitmuseum.org

The University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor opens three shows on June 22: “Arnold Mesches: A Minispective,” “Richard Haden: Carved Signs” and “Chris Natrop: Lily Ponder.” All will be on view through Sept. 15.

Mesches, who turns 89 this year, explores small paintings, drawings and collages in this show, which includes work from 1996 to the present.

Haden combines traditional carving techniques with methods and tools he has developed to make hyper-Realist sculptures depicting urban discards. The pieces are carved from laminated blocks of mahogany and poplar.

Natrop is a Los Angeles-based installation artist who will transform the Zillman Gallery into an environment of free-form cutouts created from mirrored Plexiglas and acid-cut brass.

The University of Maine Museum of Art, 4 Harlow St., Bangor, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free. 561-3350; umma.umaine.edu

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

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