March 17, 2010

A tribute to Frick's far-reaching artistic vision

— A life in the fine arts is a life of defiance. The odds are so clearly stacked against you, good old-fashioned denial won't do the trick.

The prospect for recognition is so slim that those who venture forth should be counted as cultural heroes. And the least applauded among them are the gallery owners.

I have no easy term for them (galleristas?), but confidante, life coach, press agent, true believer, market adviser, educator, plugger for sales and picker-upper of the fallen are job specifications that come to mind.

I should add endurance to the list. To stay afloat during recessions, indifference, poorly received shows and not-always-grateful artists exhibits a durability unique to the calling. Running a gallery and running a business, including the expectation of profit, have very little in common.

A show at Aucocisco in Portland has prompted these thoughts. ''The Discerning Eye of Rose Marie Frick'' is a tribute to one of the admirable figures in recent Maine art. Frick operated a handsomely appointed and highly selective gallery in Belfast from 1988 to 1996. This show testifies to its selectivity. It includes 12 artists chosen by her, who, among many others, were shown at the Frick Gallery. Some were introduced by it, and all were given an upward push by it.

A visit to this elegant show demonstrates the durableness of Frick's eye. With perhaps an exception or two, the artists were not exclusive to her gallery, but Frick aided in presenting the integrity of their work at a lean but optimistic time in our past.

The name Frick has joined the names Payson, Margolis, O'Farrell, Dean Velentgas and that wonderful gallery on Main Street in Belfast conducted by John Ames as illustrious landmarks of the recent past. They had to be, in part, labors of love.

KANY DOES RIGHT BY MCA

The renewed vitality of the Maine Crafts Association is suggested in the show ''MCA at Daniel Kany Gallery.''

Presenting crafts in the form of an exhibition of art is not an easy exercise. The impulse is to give exposure to as many artists as you can without turning the place into a small department store.

If it gets crowded, a show loses focus, and no one is well-served. It's difficult to shift from, say, large wall hangings to items of jewelry and back again and maintain your concentration. And the changes from metal to glass to fiber or wood or clay keep you off balance.

I say all this to point out how well MCA has fared in this event. In a relatively small space, a significant number of contemporary Maine craft artists are given the opportunity to put a foot forward.

Items that struck me as particularly interesting include a birds-eye maple jewelry cabinet by Geoffrey Warner. It blends arches, concavities and a complexity of small drawers into a remarkably strong form for a small object. As a jewelry cabinet it's not that small, but that's beside the point. Like a piece by the legendary cabinetmaker James Krenov, the idea is to produce a good object. That it might be a bit out of scale for the use isn't really that important.

The fiber and mixed-media wall hangings by Gabriella D'Italia have the geometric allure and coloration of West African weavings. On close inspection, their components are entirely Western, and therein lies the magic.

I also praise Ingrid Bathe's porcelain tumblers for their soft look but substantial heft. It's as though they were finely thrown then crumbled and patted back into shape, and they are irresistible.

I have written before and often of both Ken Keoughan and Lynn Duryea's work. There are good examples of each in the show, and I note the approachableness of the scale of Duryea's pieces.

HILDRETH PROVOCATIVE, AS EVER

Alison Hildreth's ''Forthrights and Meanders'' at June Fitzpatrick MECA provokes a search for the artist's inner thoughts. This is not unusual for work shown at that gallery or, for that matter, at ICON gallery in Brunswick.

''Provoke'' is the right word. There is always a narrative behind Hildreth's work; there's a story that one feels he should be able to identify and could do so if only one had read more deeply, thought more deeply or somehow was more sensitive. One senses that there are literary allusions in the ink-and-wash drawings in this show and, indeed, I have been told that its title is borrowed from ''The Tempest.''

The work has an ephemeral quality, as though the artist did not intend it to have a long life. It suggests itself as notations or thoughts committed to long sheets of fragile Japanese paper that are offered as elemental guides for our own journeys and once understood could be discarded.

If asked to, I could find old fortifications, the routes of rivers and excavated cities in my meanderings among the drawings. I could also find reports on astronomy, botany and creatures that exist in the sea. I suspect, however, that Hildreth expects more of me.

HE POINTS, SHOOTS, MAKES A POINT

I recommend the exhibition of photographs by Michael Kolster at ICON. In black-and-white and, for the most part, triptych form, they offer panoramic views (sometimes classic in appearance but not classic in attitude) of portions of the American landscape.

First, the landscape. Kolster deals with three places: San Francisco, Las Vegas and New Orleans. Now the appearance. While some of the images have the austerity and noncommittal attitude seen in the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, most take an editorial position.

Kolster isn't simply recording facts. He has a point to make, and in this sense, the appearance of his work is classic. Photographs are generally used to make a visual point.

The departs from what we are usually shown. It is a reflection of the purpose of Kolster's work. His cities remind me of the Finzi-Continis and their garden. They continued to plant while the Fascists who were preparing to destroy them marched beneath their windows.

San Francisco continues to grow in pace with the odds of a cataclysmic seismic event. New Orleans restores itself while most of the place remains below the water that surrounds it, and Las Vegas' rate of development exceeds even planning for fresh water. These factors will ultimately force the reshaping of these cities. You can feel this in Kolster's attitude.

The authority of his work is not in his selective account of what he sees, it is in his attitude about what the future holds in store. He is not optimistic. His San Francisco is smug, his New Orleans is trying to re-create the fragile place it once was, and his Las Vegas is out of control. Kolster's photographs, incidentally, are elegant.

Philip Isaacson of Lewiston has been writing about the arts for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 43 years. He can be contacted at:

pmisaacson@isaacsonraymond.com

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