Ann S. Moore didn’t know much about the contemporary art scene in Maine until a friend showed her a review of Cassie Jones’ exhibition last fall at Aucocisco Galleries on Exchange Street in Portland.
The review piqued Moore’s curiosity.
An art lover, Moore is former chairman and CEO of Time Inc. She retired in 2011, and began making plans to open a gallery to satisfy her love of art and her desire to promote the work of unheralded artists. When she opened the Curator Gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York in early March, she chose to feature Jones and five other Maine artists because she liked what she saw of them when she made studio visits in January and wanted to help them advance their careers.
“There’s just a really fabulous art community up there,” Moore said.
On view through April 19, “Second Nature: Abstract Art from Maine” features work by John Bisbee, Meghan Brady, Clint Fulkerson, Joe Kievitt and Andrea Sulzer in addition to Jones.
Mark Wethli, who teaches art at Bowdoin College, curated the exhibition and included a few of his own pieces.
Maine has a long-standing reputation as a destination for landscape painters, Wethli said. This exhibition is about the state’s second nature: abstract artists whose work is inspired by natural process.
This group includes sculptors and painters who’ve been practicing their craft for years, making art that surprises and challenges and evolves. Some paint. One works with nails, another made a drawing on the gallery window.
“These artists pick up where nature leaves off,” said Wethli, who also happens to be Jones’s fiance. “In form and structure, the genetic code is repeated.”
The gallery and the show are drawing a lot of attention. Moore has been interviewed by The New York Times and written up in the Huffington Post. The opening on March 7 drew more than 200 people, including artists, collectors and museum directors.
Suzette McAvoy, director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport, said the show reflects well on Maine. She attended the opening, and called it a “wow” moment for state’s art community.
“It’s a good time for art in Maine,” she said. “I think it will bring a spotlight to what we all know. Those of us who are in the Maine art community know how good and how strong the contemporary art scene is here, but to see it brought to New York with that concentration and that attention confirms with people that there is something pretty special going on up here.”
It’s important to note that Maine artists have a long exhibition history in New York, and “Second Nature” is hardly the only gallery show in Manhattan that features work from Maine. Gideon Bok is showing at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects on the Lower East Side, and Dozier Bell is showing at Danese/Corey in Chelsea. Wethli will open a solo show March 25 at the Painting Center on West 27th Street, and in April, Rose Marasco will show her pinhole photographs at Meredith Ward Fine Art on East 74th St.
But the show at the Curator Gallery feels different, said Portland Museum of Art director Mark Bessire, who was in town for the Armory Show, a major international art exhibition, and other art-related events and attended the opening.
“I think it raised our stature, and it is getting a lot of attention,” he said. “But the bottom line is, if the work isn’t strong enough to hold up, it’s not going to work. And this work is really strong.”
That point was not lost on Aaron Stephan, a Portland artist who also attended the opening. He’s wary of regionalism in art, and thinks Maine would be better served by dropping the Maine label.
“People here often construct a barrier around Maine,” he said, “I think this is intended to reinforce regional pride, but often cuts our community off from the rest of the world. This impacts our cultural community the most, where information and ideas should flow freely with the rest of the world. I would much prefer to see artists interacting without regional labels.”
For Wethli, the important thing is simply giving attention to artists whose work deserves it.
Moore asked him to feature mid-career Maine artists doing “important work” who have not been widely seen in New York. He could have chosen two dozen or more artists who fit those criteria. He chose the six he did because of what he called their “implicit relationship” with the natural world. They are not depicting nature with their work, but their processes share an organic quality that is as natural as snow in March or the incoming tide.
Bisbee, a sculptor who works with nails, and Fulkerson, whose geometric drawings are based in repetitive forms, channel mathematical formulas and principles that are common in natural formations and evolution. Brady, an abstract painter, and Sulzer, who is best known for her intricate and detailed drawings and prints, look to the natural world for guidance and direction.
Jones and Kievitt represent patterns of nature and cultural traditions in their work.
The gallery is in a prime spot. It’s a street-level space in the heart of Chelsea with big windows that look out onto 23rd Street and the High Line, a linear park built on a former elevated railroad track. It’s in a trendy part of town and surrounded by other galleries.
It has high ceilings, a concrete floor and about 1,600 feet of interior space.
Moore said the early response to the show affirmed her belief that people will buy art if they are exposed to good art. A collector herself, she said she her goal in opening the gallery is to put the work of worthy artists in the hands of people who either understand the value of original art or are willing to invest and learn.
Within five days of the opening, she said, she had sold nearly 20 pieces to established collectors and young professionals.
“It proved my theory that – a whole generation of young people who didn’t grow up with art appreciation in their classrooms – we need to give them permission to come into a gallery and buy original artwork,” she said.
Including art from Maine.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: