Prepare to hear a great deal this summer about the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s new facility in Rockland, not just for the art it will present throughout the season but for the building itself.

The bulk of the swanky, contemporary architecture in Maine comes in the form of private homes. Toshiko Mori’s new building will be open to museumgoers and holds a prominent space in downtown Rockland. It is a game changer in terms of leading Maine art spaces, our statewide cultural demographics and the future of Maine’s art market.

Glistening with plate glass and sleek aluminum, Mori’s building follows Bauhaus-like modular logic with everything in multiples of four feet. Architecture fans will sense the sophisticated rigor of Gordon Bunshaft in the façade and a nod to Alvar Aalto, the luscious Finnish modernist, in Mori’s curvaceous, wainscoted front desk. The exhibition spaces look to Chelsea galleries – self-consciously elegant white box spaces with gleaming cement floors and hints of industrial scaling most notable in the sawtooth roof that allows for three additional vertical windows above the main gallery.

This building is world-class architecture by an international architect. It will win awards. Mori, who has a home in Maine with her art glass superstar husband Jamie Carpenter, is Japanese. She graduated from Cooper Union in 1971 and continues to base her practice in New York. She has a list of awards longer than many leading architects’ list of buildings, and she was not only the first female professor in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design to receive tenure, but she chaired the architecture department from 2002 to 2008.

CMCA director and curator Suzette McAvoy during construction.

CMCA director and curator Suzette McAvoy during construction. Daniel Kany Photo Daniel Kany photo

In other words, not only is it a good building, but its significance is enhanced by Mori’s oeuvre. In that sense, it shares qualities with Frederick Fisher’s art buildings at Colby, Henry Cobb’s Portland Museum of Art building and Bowdoin’s gem of a museum originally designed by Charles McKim.

One difference is that CMCA is a kunsthalle, which means that it doesn’t have a permanent collection (or object donors) to maintain. By contrast, Colby’s leading space in the new Fisher-designed wing, the 3,485-square-foot Michael and Sally Gordon Gallery, so far has been used exclusively to showcase the museum’s permanent holdings. Things can change: The Portland Museum of Art recently mounted a pair of successful contemporary shows by Duncan Hewitt and Ahmed Alsoudani in its best space, the soaring third floor gallery that has primarily been used to show the permanent collection. At the risk of repeating myself, it’s a tacit acknowledgment that the otherwise excellent building’s first floor gallery, which was designed for lead exhibitions, is a rather a disaster.

At Bowdoin, Frank and Anne Goodyear have grown the role of their best spaces, the Boyd Gallery with its glorious natural light and the adjacent Shaw Ruddock Gallery. They now house R. Luke DuBois’ beautifully installed show, “Now,” the most ambitious contemporary art installation in Maine in years.

One site where the strategic use of space could shift for the better is the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. Director pro tem Andres Verzosa is an installation specialist. His photography shows in the littlest gallery were the museum’s best last year. I expect he may bring the small but exquisite permanent collection out front. The Barn Gallery Associates Wing is not a great space for paintings, but it would be terrific for contemporary art.

Certainly, we can expect CMCA curators’ use of the museum’s new space to evolve over time.

Jonathan Laurence photo

The new Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland. Jonathan Laurence photo

Mori’s building features three main galleries in addition to the excellent exhibition-intended entry and hall spaces. Two have lower, 12-foot ceilings and seem to be spot-on for showing painting and video. The soaring main gallery, at 2,600 square feet, has without a doubt claimed a spot on the list of Maine’s very best art spaces, alongside the aforementioned galleries at Colby and Bowdoin, as well as the Bates College Museum of Art’s upper gallery, the Maine College of Art’s Institute of Contemporary Art’s Lunder and Evans Hunt galleries, the Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells, the University of Maine Museum of Art’s main exhibition space in Bangor and the top floor of the University of New England’s 1977 Art Gallery in Portland.

Leading with Jonathan Borofsky for the initial exhibition in the main gallery is a stroke of brilliance. Borofsky is an international superstar (one of the few Mainers to have had a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, for example) who lives in Maine but has not shown his work here for over 40 years.

What convinced Borofsky, in part, to do the show is the fact that his studio is almost the exact same size as the 50-foot-by-52-foot gallery. I saw the installation taking shape in Boroskfy’s studio, and we’re all in for a treat.

The brilliance is that CMCA is leading with a show designed by a notable and accessible artist who knows that space intimately and has had many months to design the show with his actual works – or make new ones specifically to suit it.

Jonathan Laurence Photo

The new museum holds a prominent place in downtown Rockland. Jonathan Laurence Photo Jonathan Laurence photo

While Mori’s main gallery is a thing of beauty, it is not like other regional art spaces. On one hand, CMCA Director and Curator Suzette McAvoy is possibly the best exhibition designer in the state. She could work magic even in the lopsided Rockport building that was the museum’s former home and that distracted viewers with its ever-imminent intent to collapse. (I made my kids wait outside whenever I visited.) But some of the ceilings under the new sawtooth roof reach to 26 feet, and there isn’t much art made in Maine premised on that scale.

If you have ever seen small paintings by Alex Katz in Colby’s high-walled gym-like Paul J. Schupf wing, then you can imagine the problem I foresee. Katz, who will be one of the three featured artists to open the new Mori building, makes work as monumental as anyone in the state, but even his small paintings get lost on giant walls. Even with McAvoy at the helm, there will be a learning curve after the honeymoon. But if an exhibition solution is needed, what will it look like? Will Maine artists make new work to scale for the space? Or will the solution entail curatorial outreach to find the right work – even if that means considering (gasp!) artists from away?

Whatever happens, we shouldn’t forget what an extraordinary set of steps CMCA has taken to get from its dilapidated Rockland barn to this world-class architectural gem. For this, I think we could probably forgive a stumble or two.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

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