The Per Kirkeby show at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick is an exhibition of the work of a painter of remarkable influence in Europe. In addition to his esteem as a painter, Kirkeby is also known as a sculptor, writer, geologist and filmmaker.
After seeing the show, which includes a 48-minute explication on a major work, I believe Kirkeby deserves the kind of recognition that the college has accorded him. He is Denmark’s paramount artist, and is much watched throughout Europe and, among other places, New York.
For all practical purposes, the museum has turned the place over to this effort on Kirkeby’s behalf. In one room, there are six large paintings including one (“Unbilled,” 2009) that may have set the world record for a Maine show. It’s very big. There are a variety of additional rooms, plus a room for large sculptures and an additional space for eight splendid small bronzes.
The show represents all phases of Kirkeby’s career. It begins with the Pop Art aesthetics of the 1960s and moves on to his engagement with the human body; gorgeous, bronze models; and quite wonderful explorations of the human condition.
Their outbursts of color are the strength of the show. As we’re told, this artist sees art as constantly in flux, from the progression of humanity to the scientific evolution of the world.
Kirkeby’s observations are often based on the observation of the visible world, and contain references to recognizable shapes that are emblematic of biographical narratives. They inspire curiosity, and generate an opened process of discovery and expression. Much of the foregoing is from the excellent statement of Joachim Homann that introduces the show.
This is a big moment for Bowdoin, and a remarkable moment for Maine. It is an opportunity to see an event of the kind that only Bowdoin offers.
I DON’T SUPPOSE that Waterville has more than its share of unloved spaces than any other place of its size, but some of those that it does have are caught by the work of Gary Green.
Green’s black-and-white photographs of unloved places reflect on lost dignity and on unfulfilled promises. They speak of wistfulness and disappointment and suggest that time, poor use and intrinsic ugliness are perpetual in all communities. They are remarkable in that they help us define who we are.
A couple of dozen or so of his elegant images are on view at the University of Southern Maine Glickman Library in Portland, and while those of Waterville and its environs stick in my mind, his net is much wider.
The photos cover parking lots adjacent to junk piles, old steel fencing consumed by brambles and vines, and rough backyards, all in a swath that leads on to South Portland.
The impulse behind Green’s work is the concept that there are pauses in the cohesive patterns of cities that have characters of their own and serve as counterpoints to the logic of town grids. Those pauses show us post-industrial sites, undeveloped housing areas, underpasses and places that we have trained ourselves not to see.
In all of this, the photographer describes a sense of longing and disappointment that, I suppose, defines his view of the times. That gloom, when expressed through the elegance of his touch, becomes a soft elegy for our time. It leaves me sad.
DAVID BROOKS STESS’ photographic images of the harvesters of our blueberry fields, featured in “Blueberry Rakers” at the Portland Museum of Art, have evolved into a Maine classic. He knows whereof he speaks. They exemplify his brotherhood with his co-workers on the barrens, a relationship established over a period of two decades.
Unlike some biographers, Stess did not come on the annual blueberry scene and gain such trust over time that he disappeared as an observer. Life, under those circumstances, would carry on as though he was not present.
On the other hand, he joined in that life, and thus the workers’ biography is part of his own biography. He is photographing his own life.
That can result in a sense of the workers performing for his camera. They know he’s there and, perhaps, give him what they think he’s looking for. They respond to his personality. This is not in criticism or complaint; it is intended to point out that two approaches will produce two results.
Stess tells us of a world we can hardly know. Kids hanging off vehicles, traveling on the migrant school bus, doing homework on the back of picking cartons, doing chores and playing a frightening form of tug-of-war. He tells us of hanging out, laundry day, dancing at night by available light and washing up after a day of raking.
It’s not a primer on blueberry raking or on the exhaustion of hard work. It’s a love story about a willingness of spirit told with a passionate eye. It will captivate you.
Philip Isaacson of Lewiston has been writing about the arts for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 48 years. He can be contacted at: