June 10, 2012

ART REVIEW: Furniture-related art: Clever craftsmen reach new heights


One of the semi-secret art gems in Portland is the Coleman Burke Gallery window on Congress Street. While rather small and even dingy, it inevitably contains excellent art installations.

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"Armada/Regatta" (detail) by Adam John Manley, on display at June Fitzpatrick.

Contributed photo

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"Continuance", an installation by James Marshall, on display at Coleman Burke Gallery in Portland.

James Marshall

Additional Photos Below



WHERE: June Fitzpatrick Gallery, 522 Congress St., Portland

WHEN: Through June 23

HOURS: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

INFO: 699-5083; junefitzpatrickgallery.com


WHERE: Coleman Burke Gallery, 504 Congress St., Portland

INFO: colemanburke.com


WHERE: Rose Contemporary, 492 Congress St., Portland

WHEN: Through June 29 HOURS: 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

INFO: 780-0700; rosecontemporary.com

It currently features James Marshall's "Continuance" -- 18 lead-looking paper shopping bags lined up on a plank apparently bowing under the weight. The raw plank is suspended across two ziggurat-like plinths built up of alternating and progressively narrowing steps of 2-inch-square raw wood beams.

"Continuance" is a puzzling piece. The bags were treated with Marshall's signature myriad layers of glue and graphite until they attained a structural solidity and sculptural presence. They are fascinating objects -- perplexing, perhaps, but intriguingly so.

The bend in the wood makes the table part of the installation rather than simply an element of display. The arch -- an elliptical stress curve -- creates extraordinary dialectical tensions with the bags. (Why are they so heavy? Is this thing a table, a pedestal or a bridge?) The mystery challenges us to unfurl the irrational against the backdrop of the mundane: Why 18 bags and 18 wooden steps?

The unspoken power of Marshall's installation stems from the piece of furniture -- that table, or whatever it is. The presence of furniture forces a sense of place defined by human purpose -- whether endeavor, repose or ritual.


MECA IS HOSTING the national conference of the Furniture Society from Thursday to Saturday, so it's not surprising there are several nearby exhibitions featuring furniture art and woodworking. Two of the most interesting include an exhibition of three Maine College of Art professors at June Fitzpatrick Gallery and then a show of MECA students past and present at Rose Contemporary, "Then & Now."

"Then & Now" is very mixed in terms of quality, but it's a handsome and terrifically concise introduction to issues at play in contemporary woodworking and art furniture.

Although not my favorite pieces, I particularly liked the disparate pairing of Steven Anderson's hand-crafted red oak and coco bolo chair with Ted Lott's "Habituation, No. 2" -- a found chair over which it looks like Ken has been hard at work framing out a dream house for Barbie.

The strongest work is Vivian Beer's "Anchored Candy No. 1," a bench that looks something like a giant yellow woman's pump morphing into a monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey." It is tight, dense, funky and intense.

My favorite, though, is Sarah Bouchard's "White Cube," comprising three rows of 25 standing white ladders. Each has three rungs and therefore four spatial modules. That 75 is three-quarters (think money or percent) transitively implies a fourth term which, in this case, is the whole -- the gestalt. Despite its smart ironies and coolness, it's uncannily satisfying and inclusive.

"NEW WORKS" by Matt Hutton, Jamie Johnston and Adam John Manley at June Fitzpatrick is a great show featuring nothing but highly sophisticated work by mature artists.

While 80 percent of the work is by Johnston, Hutton and Manley make significant impacts on the show. Hutton's work is the quietest, but it forces the viewer to consider everything in the context of furniture. His three tables and a shelf are part of a project about the beautiful old Midwestern barns that are being torn down for their semi-valuable wood only to be replaced by pre-fabricated metal structures.

Hutton's three delicately refined oval tables exude almost Roman elegance. They are defined, however, by oval boxes (that do not open) floating under the table top. It's a haunting form -- subtly funerary -- that imparts the work with an unexpected sense of memorialism.

Nostalgia is, in fact, the common theme of the show.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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"#146" by Jamie Johnston, on display at June Fitzpatrick.

Contributed photo

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"Anchored Candy No. 1" by Vivian Beer.

Image courtesy of Rose Contemporary

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"White Cube" by Sarah Bouchard.

Image courtesy of Rose Contemporary

click image to enlarge

Oak chair by Steven Anderson.

Image courtesy of Rose Contemporary


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