July 3, 2011

In The Arts: Show strikes fine balance between Maine history and art


This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. to correct the site of Neill Ewing-Wegmann's show last year.

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“A Moment” by Richard Wilson, graphite on tinted paper, 2010, at June Fitzpatrick

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“Five Islands Ice Cream Parlor” by William Zorach, watercolor on paper, 1940, at the Portland Museum of Art.

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WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square. 775-6148

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

CLOSES: Sept. 11



WHERE: June Fitzpatrick Gallery at MECA, 522 Congress St., Portland. 699-5083

HOURS: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday

CLOSES: July 16


WHERE: Art House, 61 Pleasant St., Portland. 221-3443

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday

CLOSES: July 30


I am not an art historian by training, and only slightly so by inclination. Too assiduous attention to the details of history can be the hobgoblin of aesthetics. In the end, art is a matter of passion, and history is its servant. Without passion, art history is history.

These thoughts were encouraged by "Maine Moderns," a fine show at the Portland Museum of Art. As an event, it strikes a nice balance between a bit of Maine history and a gathering of notable art that assists the narrative.

The story is engaging. In the early decades of the last century, that enveloping presence in American Modernism, Alfred Stieglitz, urged a string of New York artists to take up summer residence in Maine. His influence was not always direct, and the periods of residence could be short, but the work that ensued was consequential.

The artists included Paul Strand, John Marin, Max Weber, Marguerite and William Zorach, Gaston Lachaise and Marsden Hartley. The situs of the story is two long peninsulas that wiggle south of Bath and carry on to the open sea. The artists didn't form a colony, but there was a level of communal exchange and, based on their work, they appear to have sustained themselves on the physical virtues of rural Maine.

Maine does not account for the attitudes of the artists; they were New York artists (I use the geographic term loosely) with established approaches to their work. Still, there is a quality about some of the paintings, particularly Hartley's, that touch the deepest level of my sense of place. Amid the flux of my impressions of Maine, some of those paintings illuminate the agitation that lies within my feelings of our state. I sense that the images are utterly right.

There are four fine Marin watercolors in the show, but Marin is too elegant and too aloof to pursue the rural virtues that I find in Hartley. That clarity is a windfall from Hartley. (A separate exhibit devoted solely to Marin can also be found at the Portland Museum of Art.)

Perhaps the best expression of the pursuit of rural virtues in the show is William Zorach's "Five Island Ice Cream Parlor." A watercolor, its directness and evident affection for the area is moving. It starts as a nocturne and ends as a love song.

"Walking Woman" and "Woman (Hesitation)," two small voluminous bronzes by Lachaise, have monumentality in diminutive scale. It is a pleasure to see them.

It is also a pleasure to see the photographs of F. Holland Day, Gertrude Kasebier and Clarence H. White. Meltingly beautiful examples of early American pictorial photography, they insisted on entry into the realm of art before photography was accepted as a creative medium. Their idylls and diffusions are of the kind that Stieglitz once championed.

Although there is no apparent record of Stieglitz having set foot in Maine, his imprint appears on a lot that was created in these precincts in years gone by. Perhaps a show about him some sunny day.


"Figurative Drawings" at June Fitzpatrick MECA -- an increment in a statewide drawing initiative -- offers work deeply achieved. Passion comes in many guises -- sometimes in images, sometimes in the urgency to create the images. It's all there in this show.

In starting off with Richard Wilson, a garner of the louche, we're treated to a gathering of end-of-the-evening adventures. Disrobing figures -- some with choreographed passion, some just plain stripping -- imply contact events to come.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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“Rock, Georgetown, Maine,” gelatin silver print by Paul Strand, at the Portland Museum of Art.

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“The Grind” by Neill Ewing-Wegmann, acrylic and marker on canvas and paper, at Art House.


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