If you want to see art in a well-installed and well-designed setting, the best place in Maine is Corey Daniels Gallery on Route 1 in Wells, near the Ogunquit line.

Daniels has a great eye, not only for art but for design objects and installation. And it is with design in mind that Daniels creates his exhibitions. Installation is an art, and no one does it better in Maine than Daniels and his director, Sarah Bouchard.

“Three Crosses,” by Sarah Bouchard Photos courtesy of Corey Daniels Gallery

Daniels and Bouchard are both artists, and their work is on display as part of this season-starting show, “Flux.” Bouchard has made a name for herself with installations driven by light and craft; her large, light-infusing paper spheres are smart and handsome. Her elegantly intellectual suite of eight paintings titled “Three Crosses” is driven by a clock-like mathematical system. Daniels is a painter who, almost ironically, has more of a visual sense for systems logic in his paintings: grids and splotches of data. But while his own works feel brainy, what drives them is their rigorous sense of visual organization. His content is far more about aesthetic and design than parsable depth.

And that is the key to understanding what Daniels is up to with his gallery.

Daniels represents many of the sharpest visual artists in Maine. But when he installs his shows, the driving force is purely visual, leaving the conceptual force of the works to their own, individual self-presentations.

In other words, the gallery installations are completely driven by aesthetic rather than content. The outcome is that every show looks great. And when installations look good, the art tends to present itself very strongly in a way that matches how art fans would like to see art in their own homes. That, in turn, makes it much easier to see any individual piece for its own qualities: Each work plays a role in the overarching visuality of the installation while maintaining its individual qualities for itself, rather than playing into some broader or overdetermined curatorial conversation.

The eight panels of “Three Crosses,” for example, are virtually white on white. They hang next to a painting by Jeff Kellar featuring 11 low-contrast horizon yellow bands centered on a white panel. It’s an extraordinarily minimal and finely crafted in Kellar’s putty-like material, burnished like a well-loved work of mid-century modernism. In the center of the long white, architecturally-sleek wall is a piece by Dozier Bell, one of Maine’s leading painters who is making quite a name for herself among galleries in New York City and around the world. While Bell’s work is spare for a landscape – it’s a view toward far-off mountains behind which towers a gray-blue wall of clouds topped by a crepuscular sliver of Venetian yellow, the one direct trace of the retreating sun within a practically magical scene led by its indirect atmospheric attributes.

It’s a superb painting that would hold up anywhere against anything, but Daniels has hung it rather like a one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other punctuation on an otherwise white and quite literalist wall.

To clarify his intentions, Daniels has done the same thing on the opposite wall. The works are exceedingly spare with the exception of an almost indecently luscious Jocelyn Lee floral that similarly claims the middle spot. Taking the lead from its featured objects, this work is coloristically rich: a now-pocked pomegranate and fading purple dahlia freed from most of its pedals. Lee works in two leading modes: nude females sympathetically placed in the landscape (an excellent example of this work hangs in the gallery’s front room) and then Romantic closeups of flowers floating in water, so outsized and detailed that we can practically smell the edges of decrepitude that are beginning to make their way into the image. They feel like scenes from Baudelaire or Poe: the floral gatherings of a forgotten pond in the once-great garden of a fallen house bereft of moral oversight.

“Dark Matter #4 (Floating Purple Dahlia),” by Jocelyn Lee.

And I have no doubt that Daniels’ intentions were purely visual. Quickly scanning the large room, one sees a long rectangle elegantly installed. Nothing is out of place. The gridded modernist handrails of the room-centered basement steps are even echoed by works of art such as Don Williams’ ceramic sculptures with their gritty, industrial textures. Of course, camouflaged among this fitting aesthetic are some of the best works in the state in terms of sculptural space and spatial development.

What makes Corey Daniels Gallery particularly different is his use of design elements like century-old tables and antique glass cases, mid-century chairs, and his architecturally understated concrete desk. In fact, it is this retail-like flair for using design objects that sets Daniels apart from any gallery or design shop in the state.

“Brown,” by Tom Butler

This quirky, antique flavoring opens the doors for works like Tom Butler’s victorian photo cards, in which the artist paints spinning lollipop-target circles in the place of faces. Their bizarreness here finds a perfect place. Martha Groome’s minimalist black, white and gray hard-edge abstractions also look perfectly at home, easing their way into view through their handsome design rather than through the severity of their painterly goals. Particularly notable are Jung Hur’s grid-oriented paintings: Any concern for their philosophically-insistent Eastern content arrives slowly behind their almost-electric systems logic and impressive painterly ambitions.

Much of Daniels’ most handsome work appears at its quiet best within this setting. Lauren Herzak-Bauman’s stacks of white porcelain look like the pages of ancient tomes settled after having been left on their spines – still gathered but a bit gravity-splayed. Munira Naqui’s black and white encaustics are insistently minimal but sparkle with a sophisticated, effervescent edge. Alison Hildreth’s tracing paper maps hang like honored objects – hallowed and handsome ancient documents of hidden histories. Duane Paluska’s paintings – collages that thrive on the subtle distinctions between the colors of sail canvas – almost model the work of the entire gallery. Using old materials, their aesthetic is calmly patient. They combine brainy systems logic with philosophical content but reveal themselves primarily as understated abstractions driven by formal design.

These are but a few of the artists now on view at Corey Daniels. But the true achievement of the gallery is not the impressive exhibition of isolated objects, it’s showing them within a high-design environment that brings out the best in everything.

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

[email protected]


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