Nat May, the former executive director of SPACE Gallery in Portland, will curate next year’s biennial exhibition of contemporary art at the Portland Museum of Art.

May, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, will spend much of his year visiting artists in their studios and compiling ideas about who to include in the exhibition, which offers an overview of art being made in Maine or by people with ties to Maine who live elsewhere. In a phone interview, he said he was honored to be invited and eager to begin his work.

“I don’t pretend to know all the artists and don’t presume that I have seen everything there is to be seen,” he said. “I’m going to keep my eyes open and my ears open and dive right in.”

Jessica May, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator – no relation to Nat May – said she’s wanted to work with him since he left SPACE last fall. She got to know him when both were guests of photographer Rose Marasco at her class at the University of Southern Maine. “I remember him talking about how art can function in many ways, and aesthetic pleasure is just one way,” she said. “He has such a thoughtful relationship to art.”

In addition to his work at SPACE over 13 years, Nat May was a founding member of the Bakery Photo Collective and has served on the board of Creative Portland and the Portland Arts and Culture Alliance. He has served as a founding member of Common Field, a nationwide network of contemporary, experimental and noncommercial visual art spaces, and as a founding board member at the Hewnoaks Artist Colony in Lovell.

The PMA Biennial opens Jan. 26. It will be 10th biennial at the museum and the second organized by an independent curator. Most recently, the biennial that opened in October 2015 was curated by Alison Ferris of Edgecomb. In the early years of the biennial, the PMA solicited submissions by artists.

May said he is looking at art with an open mind. He has a list of artists he’d like to speak with and is working with advisors for other ideas.

“I am sure I will visit more people than can fit into the show. That will be an interesting challenging to navigate,” he said. “In some ways, any biennial carries a burden of expectation that is unfair for any one exhibition to carry.”

The exhibition is not a talent contest or a best-of show, he said. It’s a opportunity to take a subjective look at art being made in Maine or by artists associated with Maine. “I am prepared for some people to want it to be something different than what it will turn into. I have never encountered a biennial that meets everybody’s expectations,” he said. “I am interested in trying to pull together things that encourage dialogue.”

At this point, he has not formed any themes or concrete ideas about what he wants the show to be. A theme will emerge with time, he said.

“One new thing I hope we figure out: I would really love to add some performance work or time-based work, which I think would be a departure,” he said.

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

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