FREEPORT – Real, high art rarely embroils itself in topical, minute political issues. When I think of those moments when I knew I was in the company of a great work of art, politics and other practical matters vanished.

Whether it was Frederick Church’s astonishing “The Icebergs,” alone in a big, gorgeous gallery at the then-new Dallas Museum, or the hours I’ve spent on that bench in front of Jackson Pollock’s “Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or being fortunate enough to actually see Botticelli’s “Primavera” at the Uffizi, or even feeling the butterflies as I stood in front of Monet’s “Water Lilies,” I have just wondered so often — how can these artists have found the vision and the virtuosity to create such wonderful, yet sublime, images?

But here in Maine in 2011, we have a wave of artists, activists and politicians clamoring at the gates because a cherished tribute to the “labor history” of Maine has been removed from public view by a governor who, it seems, didn’t think that the state’s Department of Labor should appear to be promoting a rather narrow, one-sided depiction of that history.

We are not being challenged to defend art on aesthetic grounds; we are being told that the Baldacci administration’s version of how the state Department of Labor facilities should be presented is entirely valid, while Gov. LePage’s approach to the same matter is reprehensible.

Let’s take a deep breath.

The mural, as far as we know, has not been damaged or destroyed. The previous administration and its agents exercised certain prerogatives in acquiring and installing the mural as they saw fit. It is common practice, especially in art institutions, for new directors and administrations to reconfigure the presentations that they inherited from their predecessors in order to better reflect their sense of what is appropriate or even aesthetically valid.

Indeed, this is not really about the mural. It is about people who just cannot abide Gov. LePage.

The mural is nothing more than a sophomoric panorama of tired, cliched images of depressed-looking, forlorn people that have been presented time and time again as justification by those who wish to fire up those equally tired old visions of class warfare. While it is certain that most great art is not essentially political, the Judy Taylor mural, even if it were art, is especially political.

So that we might broaden the context in which this “issue” stews, I would direct your attention to another exhibition at the State House brought together and installed by the same organization that had a major role in the Taylor mural — the Maine Arts Commission.

Just outside the governor’s office, and in the foyer on the floor below it, is an exhibition of paintings by Loretta Krupinski, an artist from South Thomaston. Loretta and her husband spent three years researching the history of enterprises and activities up and down the Maine coast over a period of 100 years or more. The result is a book, “Looking Astern,” published by Downeast Books.

These paintings and this book tell the truly amazing story of the history of “labor” and industry in Maine. Here we have all the people of Maine working together, creating a vibrant, bountiful, growing economy.

That history is as purely American as anything we have ever seen. It is the history of the miracle of freedom. These are beautiful paintings that have obviously resulted from an impassioned look back at much that has been wonderful and unique about Maine.

In all this commotion, have you heard anything about this exhibition? Why aren’t the governor, the news media and, above all, the Maine art world interested in these paintings? Can it be because they are about something positive and uplifting? Can it be because the paintings and the book are positive and uplifting?

And, should you be interested in seeing a truly remarkable example of Maine art, just step across the mall to the foyer in the Burton M. Cross Building and see the brilliant, intoxicating “Stones” by Alan Magee. Here is a painting that transcends all politics. It will leave you amazed and very, very positive about one aspect of art and labor in Maine.

– Special to the Press Herald


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