June 10, 2012

CMCA birthday bash a razzle-dazzler


The Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport is celebrating its 60th anniversary. It's a notable occasion in the art scene of Maine, and CMCA has introduced it with a beautiful exhibition. The Honors Exhibition is a generous opportunity to reflect on the current work of its five honorees -- John Bisbee, Katharine Bradford, Frederick Lynch, Todd Watts and Mark Wethli.

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"A Shadow Too Many #4" by Todd Watts.

Courtesy photo

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"Beach Umbrella" by Katherine Bradford.

Courtesy photo

Additional Photos Below



WHERE: Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 162 Russell Ave., Rockport. 236-2875; cmcanow.org

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

CLOSES: July 8



WHERE: ICON Contemporary Art, 19 Mason St., Brunswick. 725-8157

HOURS: 1 to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday

CLOSES: June 23

I emphasize that opportunity, because reflection is not a common ingredient in large shows. Here, the pace of the presentation, the limitation of the work to what the artists are currently doing, the fact that the artists are for the most part long-familiar and their work is within easy comprehension, give the show its tone. So it comes to us as a tonic.

It's buoyant; there's plenty of time to look at the art -- enough to form lasting impressions of specific works. I've seen the show twice, and certain of its works sustain themselves vividly.

Having said all this, it is these exact qualities that make the event difficult to review. The artists are so perennial, so written-about in so many journals, that offering fresh insights requires a mood that is not always available. But the show calls for reflection, so I will reflect.

John Bisbee stops you in your tracks. His pieces achieve a balance between the brutality of the medium -- steel -- and his ability to endow it with grace, however uneasy that quality may be.

Hammering 12-inch spikes into celebratory wreaths or bending steel bars into baroque insubstantialities civilizes the material, but it is not to be trusted. Steel comes to us as a product normal to other purposes, and its history is too clear to have faith in its acquiescence. The artist can disguise the material into a masquerade of something else, exploit its obduracy or travel a difficult middle ground.

It is in that middle that Bisbee's work resides, and much of it strikes me as small miracles. In those pieces, there is a balance between the hostility of the material and its aesthetic perfectibility, its common usage and its reluctance to accede to art. Achieving a balance between the conventions of beauty and the public suspicion of the material is Bisbee's grand accomplishment.

Katherine Bradford has acquired near-iconic status in Maine. It's just a question of time until the designation becomes official. The understatement of her forms and the silence in which they gather give her work an enchanting ephemerality.

And her forms do exist in perfect silence. They can be group swimming, dodging ocean liners or just raising hell, but they don't utter a sound, and they have bewildering senses of personal space. In Bradford's "Island Luncheon," the participants are miles apart at the luncheon table, and in "Shadows," two rump-first beach figures are in soundless duet.

I am, of course, charmed by the beauty and enigma of Bradford's paintings. I will go on looking for answers to her work, and her work will go on telling me not to.

Fred Lynch has already become an icon. The permutative history of his work is a wonder, and the work itself can be wonderful. Lynch's pieces in this show carry on the attitude offered in his recent show at ICON. Small, freestanding and supported by architecturally intricate frames, they continue his exploration into the division of spaces -- some geometric, some organic, some near floral.

His spatial boundaries usually find their way onto sides of the works and, as often as not, onto their backs -- thus forfeiting their enclosure. The work is exquisite by any measure, baffling in its ingenuity and a little troubling. I am concerned that the possibilities of infinite division may so enthrall the artist that a dilution of intensity will follow. I felt such rumblings at CMCA.

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Additional Photos

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"Turbodyne" by John Bisbee.

Courtesy photo

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"Night" by Martha Groome.

Image courtesy of the artist

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"Division Piece #40" by Frederick Lynch.

Courtesy photo

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"Slip" by Mark Wethli.

Courtesy photo


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