May 8, 2011

Art Review: Barnet's savvy geometry sparkles brighter than ever


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Barnet s The Blue Robe, 1971, etching and aquatint, Portland Museum of Art.

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New England Family, 1984, oil on canvas, by Will Barnet, courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York.



WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, Portland

WHEN: Through Aug. 14

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday

HOW MUCH: $10 adults; $8 seniors and students; $4 ages 6 to 17; free for all on Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m.

INFO: 775-6148;

With the loving eye of the long-overdue Odysseus, Barnet dreamily stands by his patient Penelope. (The classical themes apparent in the titles of Barnet's graphic works -- "Persephone" and "Ariadne," for example -- accidentally vaunt his quiet obsession with timelessness.)

Although echoing the slender curves of Art Deco with the body of a real woman, Barnet's distilled forms reach for the ages rather than the quickened legibility of passing seconds. His gestures toward idealized forms are his attempts to stay time. His obsessive picturing, he seems to believe, will hold his loved ones here forever. Barnet's faith -- effective or not -- is to our shared, if quiet, delight.

Barnet's earliest works in the show prove he could draw brilliantly ("The Nurse") and that his abstractions (the dancy and deliriously delicious eight-color print "Wine, Women & Song") might have been his best work, but patience with his later (if un-hip) works proves most worthy.

"Will Barnet at 100" is hardly the full celebration the artist deserves. But this sliver of cake delivers beyond its cold, white icing.

One of America's greatest artists, Barnet's genius lies in his reserve rather than his bravado.

Maybe Barnet should get more from Maine on his 100th birthday, but this party is for all of us, and it's not to be missed.


Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:


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