May 19, 2013

MECA show portends good things for MEart


The unsung – but very real – depth of Maine's art education communities has a somewhat strange effect on Maine College of Art. As the apparent crown jewel, MECA's reputation enjoys a certain sparkle. The flip side is that this raises expectations.

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Work by MFA candidate Carlos Pileggi in the Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art in Portland.

Courtesy photos

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Work by Sandra Lepage.

Additional Photos Below



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

WHEN: Through June 2

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; until 7 p.m. Thursday

COST: Free and open to the public

INFO: 775-3052;

You might think a Master of Fine Arts show comes after all the lessons, but there is no better art education experience than learning about the art world pressure cooker from within.

On the big stage, details matter. So when you consider that this work is by MFA candidates who have to defend it as their degree-earning culmination, things like questionable installation aspects don't fade into the woodwork.

For example, one of my favorite works is an installation sculpture of 50 or so strands of minimalist-flavored, geometrically arranged string and twine by Gregor Roth. The reason why I like it, however, has to do with the strange space created by the drywall placed on the cement floor of the gallery. It creates a hyperbolically theatrical stage space seemingly at odds with such an ethereal work.

The drywall floor goads the viewer mostly because of the footprints already there. Are they the record of the artist's installing the piece? Did someone wrongfully sully this installation? Or are we supposed to explore the space? And if so, do we even want to explore it?

While these are interesting enough questions, it looks like the drywall was a last-minute solution by Roth to attach his thesis project to the floor.

Right across from Roth's piece is an installation by Brian Dimmock featuring a machine that spins a roller from which arms protrude with a hammer, a hatchet, a saw, wax hands with nails, etc. The idea seems to be that the viewer will step on the foot pedal to start the machine, and then the shadows of these scary things will be projected onto a large cloth that hangs in front of the piece.

But the cloth is too slender and the piece is lit directly from behind, so the scary instruments simply look like shadow lines on the cloth – if you even notice the projection in the brightly lit room (and I did not until it was pointed out to me).

Strangely, I think Dimmock's anti-machine piece works well as a still sculpture. My guess is that this also is an issue of installation that makes the piece something other than what it was intended to be.

Nevertheless, I think this is an interesting show, and that these MFA candidates generally rise to an worthy level of sophistication.

But the show is a mess, and suffers for it.

Ben Severns is one of the few who rises above the chaos. In fact, his large black sticker on the front window that reads "Pardon our mess" becomes genuinely funny only as you leave the gallery. Conversely, his "A Fair Warning" is a hilarious work that greets the entering viewer. It's a neon sign hanging above the front desk that reads "EVIL" in white and then, as you approach, flashes "NOT" (in red, like the "no" in "no vacancy" signs).

But Severns also knows how to use conceptual art to stick a dagger in your heart. His monument to children killed by warring Americans in Iraq is just a few reams of cheap paper from Staples with the children's myriad names scrawled on them in Sharpie piled as an afterthought on a tiny, makeshift table.

The appearance of the main gallery is the main problem. It was a mistake to place Maria Liebana's intentionally grotesque, fancy handbag sculptures in the middle of the floor; there, they become infectiously illegible noise. They might succeed in a swanky setting, but you can't isolate them amongst the visual cacophony.

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Additional Photos

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Work by Marina Eckler.

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Work by Brian Dimmock.


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