Thursday, December 5, 2013
By DANIEL KANY
"Worldview" at the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland might be a philosophical mess, but it's an interesting and worthy exhibition. The third installment of the four-part exhibition "Maine Women Pioneers III" raises more questions than it answers.
Alice Spencer’s “Yardage II”.
Melita Westerlund’s coral reef wall reliefs and paintings by Abby Shahn.
"MAINE WOMEN PIONEERS III: WORLDVIEW," including Judith Allen-Efstathiou, Kate Cheney Chappell, Marlene Ekola Gerberick, Judy Ellis Glickman, Barbara Goodbody, Rebecca Goodale, Natasha Mayers, Arla Patch, Abby Shahn, Alice Spencer and Melita Westerlund. Co-curated by Anne Zill, Gael McKibben and Andres Verzosa
WHERE: UNE Art Gallery, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland
WHEN: Through May 12
HOURS: 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; until 7 p.m. Thursday or by appointment
INFO: une.edu/artgallery; 221-4499
ALSO: Conversations with the artists 5 to 6:30 p.m. March 28 and April 18
That mess, after all, is too important socially, culturally and philosophically for us to let it be whitewashed into oblivion. And yet someone will inevitably ask: "Why a show about women artists in 2013; haven't they caught up already?"
My favorite preemptive response is Edgar Allen Beem's steely brave but quip-witty catalog essay, in which he discusses artists such as Anna Hepler, who turned down the invitation to participate to avoid being pigeonholed as a woman artist, and others such as Lauren Fensterstock, who were conflicted about the project but didn't refuse. Beem's real-time critical awareness is a welcome alternative to the usual self-congratulatory undertone of exhibition catalogs.
While all three installments of MWP have put forth a decidedly introductory (rather than encyclopedically complete) approach, viewers -- with the hot-off-the-press catalog in hand -- no longer have to forestall forming conclusions about the series. And for a show dedicated to raising questions, this matters.
"Worldview" is the curatorial brainchild of UNE Art Gallery director Anne Zill; Gael McKibben, who co-curated the previous MWP exhibitions years ago when the gallery was Westbrook College's Payson Gallery; and gallerist Andres Verzosa.
When I found myself wondering why welder/sculptor Melita Westerlund was included rather than say, welding maestro/Colby College professor Harriet Matthews, things immediately got interesting. My thinking about who could (or should) have been included in the series -- and why -- was probably just what the curators wanted.
This questioning strategy is mirrored directly by Natasha Mayers' group of painted vanity license plates about institutional unfairness. From the states of "Corporate State," "Drone State," etc., they feature messages such as "2BG-4JL" or "SRVA-LNCE."
Because they are painted in a casual hand on cardboard with approachable wit, you find yourself trying to one-up Mayers by making up your own -- and that's precisely what she wants. Mayers isn't above the audience; she wants to be our catalyst. Her empowering message is, "You CAN do this!"
Mayers' work hangs next to Judy Glickman's photographs. While these might look dissimilar, Glickman's poetically forceful photo of a woman -- reflected in the glass in front of the ovens at Auschwitz -- also reflects a certain unassailable weight back onto Mayer's anti-war works. Together, Mayers and Glickman compel us to open our eyes and take political action.
The ground floor is a bit too densely hung, but until there is handicapped access to the architectural gem's other levels, I can live with that.
The strongest work on the first floor is Arla Patch's powerful "Burning Off the Past" -- a wall-mounted plaster bust that molts a scarred outer skin to reveal a painfully raw but fresh figure underneath.
The still-dead white eyes are just beginning to come back to life, and we see the pulled silver threads of broken seams falling away. The tips of the threads bind bits of charred cloth -- uncomfortable proof of past (but not forgotten) atrocity.
As someone who grew up in "Elm City" (Waterville), I find Judy Allen-Efstathiou's "Tree Museum" works particularly moving. Her thoughtfully beautiful drawings of elms, chestnuts and other blight-devastated trees reveal an unusually compassionate world view.
Allen-Efstathiou illustrates how the world can change radically for the worse if we aren't careful. She reminds us about the fungal blight that appeared 100 years ago near Yankee Stadium and spread from the Bronx, destroying 3 billion chestnut trees between Appalachia and Maine.
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Detail of Kate Cheney Chappell’s “Go Inside the Stone III”.
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Arla Patch’s “Burning Off the Past.”
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A drawing from Judy Allen-Efstathiou’s “Tree Museum” series.