October 4, 2013

Portland Museum of Art spotlights Maine artists

'Piece Work,' samples the best of the state's contemporary art scene.

Bob Keyes' preview of "Piece Work" at the Portland Museum of Art

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Portland Museum of Art biennial that opens Thursday will look and feel very different from any of the seven previous biennials hosted by the museum since 1998.

click image to enlarge

“Stargazer” by Jason Rogenes, expanded polystyrene foam inserts and electrical components, courtesy of the artist.

All photos courtesy of Portland Museum of Art

click image to enlarge

"Iceland/Makena Beach II (Stock Photography)," photo collage by Aaron Williams, courtesy of the artist

Additional Photos Below


The museum has arranged two other related exhibitions to coincide with the biennial.

The first is Amy Stacey Curtis' "9 Walks," which consists of nine videos of a walk in the woods. This installation is part of her ongoing series of solo biennials, which until now she has hosted in mills around the state. Her theme is time and space, and making order of chaos.

The museum will show her projections throughout the building.

For Curtis, the number nine is a perfectly symmetrical and appropriate. It has roots in Greek and Egyptian mythology, and is symbolic on many levels. She has integrated the number into most of her previous biennial projects.

By the completion of her biennial cycle, she will have created 81 interactive works, with nine installations per exhibition, many of which have nine elements or multiples of nine. "Having the number nine as a quantity throughout all my work also adds another element of symmetry, a consistency, threading everything together."

"9 Walks" is part of the museum's continuing Circa series, which highlights contemporary art in Maine. It is coincidental to, but not technically a part of, the biennial, though it fits in its theme and outlook.

In addition, Rahul Mitra is creating a "Box City" project on the museum grounds. Mitra, a trained biochemist, is working with street artists, other biennial artists and the local collective Subone to assemble and paint wine boxes and milk crates donated by local businesses.

They will be assembled in the museum's Sculpture Garden, and be shown throughout the biennial.



WHEN: Opens Thursday, on view through Jan. 5; 10 to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, with extended hours to 9 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

HOW MUCH: $12 adults, $10 seniors and students, $6 ages 13 to 17, free 12 and younger; free admission for all after 5 p.m. Friday

INFO: 775-6148;


Previously, the biennials have served as surveys of contemporary art in Maine, a snapshot, if you will, of the evolving art scene at a given time.

The "2013 Portland Museum of Art Biennial: Piece Work" is not that.

This biennial is built around a theme of labor, repetition and production. This isn't factory work that we're trying to appreciate here, but it comes from same ethic of getting up in the morning, going to work and coming away with something tangible to show for your day's efforts.

These are not shoes that we are stitching, or paper that we are making, but the 70-plus pieces of work produced by 30 artists very much fit into Maine's centuries-old tradition of handiwork, skill and pride.

These are beautifully articulated paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and videos, conceived, tested and perfected by artists who represent not just the best of Maine's contemporary art scene, but the very core of Maine's cultural tradition that involves working with one's hands, using inherent and learned skills to create objects of awe and wonder.

"I think what this exhibition speaks to is the idea of doing work again and again, and the idea of doing something with your hands," said Jessica May, the museum's curator of contemporary and modern art. "There is something about the tradition of handiwork that kept presenting itself."

The 2013 biennial is different in another way. For the first time since it began in 1998, the artists and art work in the biennial were not chosen by jury. May made the selections herself -- based first on images submitted by the artists, and later, she narrowed her choices based on studio visits with nearly every artist selected.

That process results in a very different kind of biennial. The juried process often results in a net cast wide, one big enough to grab the likes and interests of a three-member jury panel. Those shows were widely varied, with art work that covered a broad range of disciplines, visions and degrees of articulation. In every sense, those shows truly were a snapshot -- perhaps better described as a grab bag.

This biennial represents a single, curated view.

May has been on the job since June 2012, and began thinking about the biennial as early last fall. It presented a perfect opportunity to immerse herself deeply into the Maine art scene, to get to know not just the artists, but the kind of work that artists from Maine like to make.

The first thing she learned is that artists from Maine are not all that different from artists from away. The gap between a Maine artist and an artist from anywhere else "goes away very fast. Artists from Maine are thinking broadly. That sense of what it is to be from Maine is a lot more complicated than I thought it would be," she said.

Which is to say, "I think the work in this biennial is as good as the work in any biennial in the United States are anywhere else. The level of professionalism among artists here is very high."

Each artist in this exhibition has deep Maine connections. Many live here year-round. Some are part-time Maine residents. Others went to school here. For a few, Maine plays an important role in their artistic practice.

But the connection among all of them is their commitment to the notion of a producing body of work, of endlessly repeating a pattern or habit to produce one thing after another. Hence, the subtitle of the show, "Piece Work." If nothing else, this is an exhibition about labor and the art of making.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

"Star Field #4," inkjet print by Caleb Charland, courtesy of the artist and Gallery Kayafas, Boston

click image to enlarge

"Simon in Grass," inkjet print by Jocelyn Lee, courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery

click image to enlarge

"Sferics 2: Bell Cloud" by Zach Poff and N.B. Aldrich, mechanized bells, computer and low-frequency radio receiver, courtesy of the artists

click image to enlarge

"Vagtue Idea Vestment (for Elizabeth Hawes)," by Crystal Cawley, felt, jigsaw puzzle pieces, handmade paper, embroidery, quilted hanger (bike hook, scrap wood, stuffing, scrap fabric), photo by Jay York

click image to enlarge

"Dually Noted" by Adriane Herman and Brian Reeves, inkjet print, courtesy of the artists

click image to enlarge

“The Passenger” by Marguerite White, cut paper, vellum, turntables, halogen lights and sound, courtesy of the artist and John Swisher.

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)



The Golden Dish - Monday
Little Bigs--better than the best

More PPH Blogs