April 7, 2013

Art Review: At ICA, as interactive as it gets


click image to enlarge

The people are part of the show in “The Peninsula School of Art.”

Courtesy of ICA at MECA

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“Triumph” by Alex Da Corte.

Courtesy photo

Additional Photos Below




WHERE: Institute of Contemporary Art at MECA, 522 Congress St., Portland

WHEN: Ends Sunday; Crit Club will continue to meet from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays HOURS: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; until 7 p.m. Thursday


INFO: 775-3052;

Have you ever wanted to be an art student for a day? Sit in on a studio crit? Or join a conversation about art?

You can do this by visiting a work of art so well camouflaged that you might not even realize it is art.

The piece -- "The Peninsula School of Art" by MECA sculpture student Robert Doane -- is dynamic and deep, but it's one of the most welcoming works of art I have ever visited.

In fact, just writing the name plays into Doane's conceptualism, because usually, titles of works of art go in quotations and names of schools do not.

In this case, it's both: "The Peninsula School" is a work of art and an actual school that is free and open to the public.

Unfortunately, its last day in the ICA's center gallery is Sunday. However, PS's open-to-the-public Crit Club will continue to meet from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays.

The highlight of PS's camouflage is the work on display within its exhibition space. Without the art on the walls, it might be easier to see the school -- with its desk, couch, ping-pong table and popcorn machine -- as the work of art.

Moreover, this camouflage plays into ICA director Daniel Fuller's unusually hip and assertively savvy take on contemporary art. Instead of being a white-box gallery art backdrop, Fuller has transformed the ICA's agency role from passive to active.

In the halls and galleries, you will find assets such as the ICA's book-making tools (ICA is a member of the Publication Studio Network) and the uber-edgy AAAARG Library, a 10,000-card catalog of textual material web-posted for redistribution.

PS is fun. It's like going to a salon. You can bring your art for a crit. There are discussions about the works on display. You can discuss your ideas, ask questions or just listen.

But even if you choose to be a wallflower, you are still part of the work, and this is where PS gets really interesting.

Basically, PS is a "happening" -- a form of art invented in the 1950s in which the distinction between the audience and the performers is dissolved.

To a particularly unusual extent, however, PS is not theater -- it's real; the art, the school's mission, the participants' experiences are all real. There is no pretending (and therefore, no pretentiousness) involved.

Camouflaged as it is, PS's insistently functional literalness makes it anti-theater.

So how is it art? First of all, it's a scheduled exhibition in an art gallery. (Yes, that matters.) Secondly, it delivers an art experience to an art audience.

While this list could go on, PS ultimately (and comfortably) opens the doors to philosophical discussion and self-criticism as a tool of cultural education and critique -- stuff at the very heart of culture.

I attended (and participated in) a discussion about Philadelphia artist Alex Da Corte's readymade-based sculpture "Triumph" -- a stylized high-end plastic dog chair pushed onto its nose with a plastic "#1" fan-finger on its tail and a cell phone held up by an iStuck gum wad phone stand.

It was a fascinating conversation among students, professionals and members of the public about sculpture, design, re-purposing, plastic, garbage and even copyright and property rights. (I think Da Corte stole the chair.)

I also attended a crit at PS at which members of the public showed up with art. They included a complete novice, students from the University of Southern Maine and MECA, and two professionals whose work I admire very much: James Chute and Jonathan Blatchford.

I was particularly interested in Blatchford's difficult canvas, because I admire his exhibited painterly orchard landscapes. Problem solving with a smart, young painter like Blatchford is an amazing opportunity for the art-interested public.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

People can talk about art – or anything else that’s on their minds – in “The Peninsula School of Art” by MECA sculpture student Robert Doane, a work of art and an actual school all in one.

Courtesy photo

click image to enlarge

People can talk about art – or anything else that’s on their minds – in “The Peninsula School of Art” by MECA sculpture student Robert Doane, a work of art and an actual school all in one.


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