February 23

Art Review: SPACE Gallery’s 'Free For All 4' is unfettered fun

The works shown are also impressive enough for galleries to take notice.

By Daniel Kany

“Free For All 4” is an open and unjuried show at Space Gallery that is entertaining and exceeds expectations.

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Collagraph, Chris Beneman at Space Gallery.

Contributed photo

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Acrylic on wood, Dorson Plourde, at Space Gallery.

Contributed photo

Additional Photos Below



WHERE: SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland

WHEN: Through March 2

HOURS: Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.

INFO: www.space538.org

Art exhibitions, after all, are all about expectations. In fact, it’s arguable there is no art without expectation. This is a key point of Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades” – one of the most famous of which was a urinal signed “R. Mutt” that is widely held to be one of the turning points in art history. This work – titled “Fountain” – was submitted to the unjuried annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. The rules stated that all works for which the artist paid the fee would be included in the show, but the board overruled the outraged Duchamp (who did not claim authorship) and “Fountain” was kept out of sight: Incompatible expectations created controversy.

And so art was forever changed.

How a urinal could challenge the public understanding of art seems to locate the sovereignty of art culture with public expectation rather than with the skill of artists.

This is why unjuried shows like “Free For All” can be so fun, challenging and empowering to the public. Anyone can try out being an exhibited artist if only s/he has a work to display and the nerve to include it.

But “Free For All” is not just fodder for curiosity, it’s a good show. While it’s low-barrier for the audience, the baseline is surprisingly high. And there are enough impressive works that galleries searching for new talent shouldn’t miss it.

Robert Hyde, for example, had one of the best pieces in the Bakery Collective’s Photo-a-Go-Go – a similar cross-sectional show, but for the serious photographic community – and here he rises to the top again with a photographic tondo face-mounted on Lucite. The image is a monochromatic soft-focus landscape featuring a tree bearing a white lens flare for fruit. It’s a smart and playfully elegant image of the type we should expect to see in the best contemporary art venues.

However unlikely, there is another excellent face-mounted plexi circle in the show: Irina Skornyakova’s quiet, precise and geometrically subdued “Lines in Space.”

While photography and digital prints comprise much of the strongest work – particularly notable is Tonee Harbert’s “Untitled (cloaked),” an uncannily creepy image whose forms are reprised in several works through the show – there is a huge range, with the popular edge falling to drawing and painting with drawing media such as paint markers.

Two qualities make “Free For All” a surprising success.

First, Space has attracted some particularly noteworthy artists such as Crystal Cawley, James Chute, Clara Cohan, Lin Lisberger (one of Maine’s outstanding sculptors), Chris Beneman (whose mechanical aesthetic collagraph is one of the best pieces in the show) and Clint Fulkerson (who, between his presence in the PMA and on Congress Street, can hardly be avoided these days).

The second is the balance of work by young and less experienced artists. There is just enough kitsch and kid art to get a feel for how such things look amongst the work of Space’s sophisticated art community. Ava Biedrzycki’s marker and crayon entry “Froggy” describes the artist as “a 6-year-old Maine native, making art and wonder where ever she goes.” It’s not only charming, but it offers the audience a chance to compare kid art – which many of us genuinely like – to the rest.

David Vail’s “Taylor Swift” rings of campy fan art, but art through the ages has ceaselessly portrayed such cultural icons – from the most ancient portraits to French academic paintings and Japanese ukiyo-e prints. Vail’s artist-list biographical revelation “I have epilepsy and autism” is nothing short of heroic. There is something to be said for our times – and for organizations like Space that offer such opportunities to so many.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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“Untitled (cloaked)” by Tonee Harbert, in “Free For All 4” at Space Gallery.

Contributed photo

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Photographic tondo face-mounted on Lucite by Robert Hyde, in “Free For All 4.”

Contributed photo

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At Greenhut Galleries “Winter Meander” show: David Driskell’s “Accent of Autumn.”

Contributed photo

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At Greenhut Galleries’ “Winter Meander” show: John Imber’s “Sunflowers.”

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Print by Alexander Calder at Ed Pollack Fine Arts.

Jay York photo


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