PORTLAND – Twenty-eight artists got the word they were hoping for. About 870 did not.
The Portland Museum of Art on Friday will formally announce the artists selected for its 2013 Biennial, which has shifted to the fall and will showcase contemporary art created by artists living and working in Maine or who are closely associated with the state.
The list, provided to the Press Herald, includes eight artists previously chosen for the Biennial.
This year’s exhibition, which opens Oct. 3 and will remain on display through Jan. 5, 2014, is being organized solely by the museum’s new curator for contemporary and modern art, Jessica May.
In the past, the museum turned the selection process over to an outside jury.
May’s hiring last summer signaled the first time the museum has had a full-time curator on staff dedicated solely to contemporary art. Because of that, it made sense for the museum to take total ownership of the Biennial instead of entrusting it to a panel of outside jurors, she said.
“By hiring me, the museum is saying that we have a stake in the contemporary scene and are fully invested in it,” May said. “We’re going to own this Biennial and take responsibility for it fully, from soup to nuts.”
The museum received about 900 applications for 28 spots. The 20 newcomers include longtime Portland painter and printmaker Alison Hildreth, Waterville photographer Gary Green and Harpswell artist Kate Beck, who makes large-format paintings.
Beck, who shows her work internationally, said she was “happy and pleased” to make the cut after being rejected previously.
“I’m a Maine native, and I live and work here in Maine. I create all my work here,” she said. “It gives a sort of validation to be noticed by my home state and certainly by the Portland Museum of Art.”
The 2013 Biennial marks the second time Portland artist Lauren Fensterstock has been chosen for the show. She participated in 2005. The previous Biennial boosted her profile in Maine and gave her credibility elsewhere, she said.
“I was five years out of grad school and just starting to establish my career. I felt that getting in the Biennial was a really great affirmation. I felt it was a huge leap forward,” she said.
Soon after the 2005 Biennial, Fensterstock was invited to show in a Portland gallery, and exhibitions in Maine and around the country followed.
She applied again this year because she liked the direction of the exhibition under May’s curatorial leadership.
“It seemed that there is potential for it to be a new kind of show, and I wanted to be a part of that. With a new curator in town, it was a good opportunity to get my work in front of her,” Fensterstock said.
The shift from spring to fall for the exhibition gives May more time to make selections. She has chosen the artists to participate in the exhibition, but has not decided on the actual work. She is scheduling studio visits with each artist to choose the work that will be displayed.
Artists submitted up to four images for consideration to get into the show, but those works may not necessarily be what the museum chooses for the exhibition, May said.
“You don’t know that much about an artist’s practice based on four slides. I wanted a sense of seeing the work and spending time with artists and having insight into their practice. I wanted that to be the basis of the show,” she said.
By taking the time to visit with each artist and seeing a broad selection of work, May hopes to create a cohesive exhibition built around a specific theme and sub-themes.
Rather than create a “best of Maine” show, she is more interested in building a show around trends and undercurrents of ideas that link one artist’s practice to another, she said. She is subtitling the exhibition “Piece Work,” which reflects the tradition of hands-on labor of artisans and factory workers who are paid by the piece.
Another change this year was the selection process itself. In the past, the judges made their decisions based on blind applications. They were not aware of the identity of the artists who applied for inclusion.
May removed the anonymity from the selection process, in part because she was not familiar with the artists, their backgrounds or their reputations. “Part of the exercise for me was to get to know the Maine art community,” she said. “I did not feel I would be well-served to go it blind.”
This is the eighth Biennial the PMA has organized. The every-other-year survey of Maine’s contemporary art scene is among the most controversial shows the museum mounts.
Artists often complain that too many artists who have distant associations with the state are selected, and that the process is too subjective and does not accurately reflect the scope of work being made in the state.
May acknowledged flaws in the selection process, but argued that this year’s show will be fair and representative — and very likely more cohesive than past Biennials, because it will represent her singular vision instead of a vision derived from compromise inherent in a juried-panel process.
“A lot of really strong work did not make the show,” she said.
“The most important thing I struggled with was how to speak respectfully to the people I could not invite to participate. I don’t think there is a right way (to judge a biennial). There are a lot of wrong ways, but I’m not sure there is one right way.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: