January 29, 2012

Art Review: Celebrity, artistry explored in photographic exhibit at Portland Museum of Art


(Continued from page 1)

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Dozier Bell, as photographed by David Etnier, 1993, gelatin silver print, gift of the photographer.

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Jean Arp, middle, as photographed by Robert Doisneau, 1958, printed 1984, gelatin silver print.

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WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

WHEN: Through April 8

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

INFO: 775-6148; portlandmuseum.org

His portrait of Brett Bigbee, for example, is a great photograph: The stiff though delicately beautiful artist sits on a couch, uncannily balanced by a wispy but confrontational drawing of a recumbent nude. As well, Etnier's image of Dozier Bell is stark and bristles with an alert intelligence so fitting to the artist and her work.

Many of the portraits show the artists at work, and that is somehow fitting for the Maine artistic ethic. It makes sense to see artists such as Linden Frederick, Chippy Chase (1908-1998) and Tom Crotty absorbed in their work.

The depicted artists' work in the show is virtually all fantastic. My favorite is a tightly balled-up watercolor landscape (showing a train on a mountainside?) by John Heliker (1909-2000). It's both powerfully dense and explosively exuberant.

I also particularly like Frederick's ultra-realistic, dusk-lighted motel in Machias, Crotty's surprisingly complex watercolor of a mitten-adorned boy holding tight to a yellow balloon, Eric Hopkins' swooping 1988 island scene, and Richard Estes' lapping-water scene painted with the gorgeously loose brush he seems to reserve for his more intimately scaled works.

Shown with works by their subjects, Etnier's photographs feel like so much more than celebrity portraits. For the viewer, it makes for an unusually enlightening and interesting show -- especially if you have any interest in Maine art.

It's rare that I think a show is much better for being split into two distinct parts, but "Making Faces" is that exception. It is smart and thought-provoking. 

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



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Additional Photos

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Edward Hopper, as photographed by Berenice Abbott, 1947-1948, printed 1976, gelatin silver print.

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