Ken Jones of Farmingdale examines the labor murals hanging on the wall of the Cultural Building atrium that serves as the entryway to the Maine State Museum in Augusta in 2013. In a controversial move, the murals were removed from the Department of Labor by Gov. Paul LePage in 2011. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

While art made its way into Maine news headlines throughout the decade, in both feel-good stories and controversial ones, less obvious undercurrents slowly shaped the state’s art scene into what it is today.

In 2011, Gov. Paul LePage seized and hid painter Judy Taylor’s mural depicting the history of labor in Maine in an electrical closet, resulting in a massive public outcry.

The Colby College Museum of Art opened the Frederick Fisher-designed Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion in 2013, further solidifying its status as one of the nation’s leading college art museums.

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art moved to Rockland in 2016. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art opened its swanky new Rockland digs designed by part-time Mainer Toshiko Mori in 2016.

In 2018, University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings unilaterally censored and removed three paintings made by a convicted sex offender from curator Janice Moore’s “Industrial Maine: Our Other Landscape,” mounted at the Atrium Gallery.

The same year, world-renowned Vinalhaven artist Robert Indiana died, resulting in drama as well as trauma.

And just this month, the slow, painful demise of the Portland Museum of Art’s Maine-oriented juried biennial came to an end when the museum announced it would be replaced with a curated international triennial.

What is harder to see during any given week are the larger cultural shifts, but I assure you, they happened too.

Maine now has more varied venues than ever. Nonprofit spaces (kunsthalles) are as common as museums and galleries and the state’s museums – particularly those associated with colleges – are bigger, more serious and the best they’ve been.

Over the past decade, Maine appears to have become less mired in provincialism. While I am a fan of the traditional local brand of boldly painted plein-air style landscapes, across the region there has been a shift away from traditional and toward contemporary art.

Art about identity politics – for good reason – has become common in American visual culture as well as in the galleries and museums of Maine. While any given instance might seem difficult and even divisive, we should applaud the growing prevalence of content based in subjectivity and identity. As a society, we need to learn to talk about these things, and artists are leading the way.

Artist Charlie Hewitt waves to a passerby as a crew installs one of his sculptures on the roof of Speedwell Projects on Forest Avenue in Portland, one of several venues that have lifted photography in the state. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Over the past decade, we have witnessed the rise of photography in Maine. Photography around the state has been increasingly superb, and its presence is only growing because of organizations like the Maine Media Workshops + College, Speedwell Projects, the Bakery Collective and the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts, as well as the state’s museums and galleries. It is my hope that artists and galleries get their standards together so they can grow a healthy market. (Hint: Look to traditional fine prints.)

Market might matter most to artists and galleries – and art is a leading economic engine for Maine and the surging increase of culture tourism – but how we support and experience art is also deeply meaningful to our society. Culture is where we perform, test and hone our values. Clothing, food, design, sports, music, news media are key components of culture as well, but visual art has long played an oversize role in helping Western culture grow forward (consider the idea of the “avant garde”). Perhaps this is because it reaches imagery and ideas that are beyond our current verbal abilities. Like music, we feel art, but art has direct access to specific imagery and the complexities of human interactions. Vision, in general, is the closest sense to what we believe is the reality of the world around us.

It might be that as Portland became hipper, smarter and artier, Maine College of Art and other art school grads began to stay and settle. Or, it could be that Portland is one of the most accessible artsy cities in the Northeast. Whatever the reasons, over the past decade, art throughout Portland and the state has become more sophisticated and urbane. The state of the art is strong.

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

[email protected]

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