October 13, 2013

Art Review: PMA biennial overlooks paintings but otherwise excels

The process of the curated, rather than juried, show diverges from past exhibits of recent work by Maine-connected artists.

By Daniel Kany

‘The 2013 Portland Museum of Art Biennial: Piece Work” is a gorgeous show. The work is strong and the curatorial theme is compelling.

Matt Blackwell’s “Winter Stealing the Sun.”

Courtesy Portland Museum of Art

click image to enlarge

Justin Richel’s “Endless Column.”

Courtesy Portland Museum of Art

Additional Photos Below



WHEN: On view through Jan. 5; 10 to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, with extended hours to 9 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

HOW MUCH: $12 adults, $10 seniors and students, $6 ages 13 to 17, free 12 and younger; free admission for all after 5 p.m. Friday

INFO: 775-6148; portlandmuseum.org

I particularly like that “Piece Work” illustrates my oft-repeated (maybe too-oft) opinion that the most important critical trend in Maine contemporary art is concept-driven work relying heavily on process and craftsmanship.

However, we have some business before we sit down to the meal.

First, if you are a painter or a painting fan, then stop reading this now because there’s nothing more here for you.

There is one painting in the show, but it is sequestered in the McClellan House and wasn’t even painted in this decade. (Typically, biennials limit themselves to recent works, so this stings doubly.)

You could argue that Duane Paluska’s works are paintings, since they hang on the wall and often have paint on them. But they are shaped pieces of wood largely covered in sail canvas that maintains its original color, so they are closer to collage or assemblage. Moreover, Paluska is a sculptor and this work sets your brain into 3D mode – like when you see room lines at diagonal angles but your brain explains to you they are flat lines seen in perspective. This might be my favorite work in the biennial; but it’s not painting to me.

The biennial’s call for entries said “work in any medium will be considered” when it should have said “painters need not apply.”

Of the 870 rejected artists, I bet about half of them were painters. After all, painting has always been the driving force behind Maine’s art economy and reputation.

The other bit of business is that the PMA sent letters to a “handful” of artists requesting they apply to the biennial. That is not only completely unfair to the rejected artists, but it rubs up against the ethics of a “juried” show.

The 2013 biennial is not a juried show: Part invitation, part open call – it’s a curated show. That shift might be acceptable to the terms of the bequest by Maine artist William Thon and his wife that created the PMA biennial (I don’t know), but it should have been announced before the call for entries went out – not after. Standards are fundamentally important, but, unfortunately we don’t have sufficient space here to discuss practices like outside jurors, etc.

It’s extraordinarily frustrating to have this “business” interrupting what could otherwise be an enthusiastic discussion about the juror, Jessica May, the museum’s newish curator of contemporary and modern art, and scads of excellent art – but in a March interview with Bob Keyes, May said, “We’re going to own this biennial and take responsibility for it fully, from soup to nuts.”

I blame the chefs: too many nuts. Now, on to the soup.

The first course is Adrienne Herman’s and Brian Reeves’ wallpaper installation of Post-It note lists. While you immediately notice the repeating scale as defined by the magenta “SHRED” notes, it’s a witty affirmation of Herman’s brainy but vernacular touch.

The main presence in the first gallery is Lauren Fensterstock’s 10-by-10-by-4-foot solid black landscape based on English farm boundary trenches. The thousands of hand-cut black paper elements are obsessively impressive and gorgeously punctuated by a reflective black Lucite stream at its bottom.

Next are Jocelyn Lee’s series of photos of “Kara.” They are so disturbingly creepy that I don’t mind that we’ve seen them several times before.

Drawing is very strong in the biennial. Kate Beck’s 100 graphite/paper/panel works form an elegant grid anchoring the center gallery.

Alison Hildreth’s five 80-by-36 inch topographical/archeological map drawings on paper reveal she has expanded her language into motion and 3D whimsy.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Abbie Read’s “Library.”

Courtesy Portland Museum of Art

click image to enlarge

Allison Cooke Brown’s “Glove #3.”

Courtesy Portland Museum of Art


Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)



More PPH Blogs