The raison d’etre of most artist-run galleries is often to present alternatives to the strictures, bureaucracy and politics of market-driven commercial galleries and museums, frequently by presenting more experimental work and engaging avant-garde curatorial concepts.

In West Bayside, New System Exhibitions is this sort of operation. It’s a very raw space run by seven young artists, most of them not-too-distant graduates of Bowdoin. Here you will find two shows: “Gendered Fluid,” with work by Hannah Boone, and “Bloomers,” with work by Kenny Shapiro. They are not formally linked, but their emphasis on sexuality and fetishism inevitably connects them. Both are up through Aug. 15.

In East Bayside, Zero Station is showing “Efflorescence” (through Sept. 25), a group show ostensibly about flowers. It couldn’t be more different from New System. Run by a couple with many years of art experience under their belts – as creators, framers and preparers – Zero Station has been in business for 21 years, 19 of them at this location.

Though some of the work at this gallery is certainly out-of-the-box, such as Tracey Cockrell’s sound sculptures and Winky Lewis’ composite photo work “Peony Hubble Study,” the show has great respect for traditional art practices like etching and printmaking, and it places a premium on beauty and lyricism, which might feel old-fashioned to some, but to this 62-year-old enhances appreciation for the entire vocabulary of art history.

New System Exhibitions

To quote Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” We are immediately deposited into a roomful of Boone’s eye-popping, sexually explicit work, which she creates using painting, sculpture, 3D printing and video. It’s not a show to bring your children to, though it’s so joyous that it feels more innocent than you might imagine.


“I use an interdisciplinary practice to explore queer world-building and search for where I exist outside the gender binary,” reads their statement. At the gallery, they also offered this tongue-in-cheek intention: “I wanted to be the artist who put the most sexual parts into one space.” If there were an award for this achievement, they would win by a landslide.

Many modern artists have explored erotically charged subject matter in their work: Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Hans Bellmer and Bogdan Rata to name a few. Boone’s work most closely aligns with Bellmer and Rata in its surreal rearrangement of body parts – think Bellmer’s sculptures of multiple breasts, or Rata’s of feet with women’s nipples sprouting from their heels.

But the spirit of these – and their vivid, garish colors – seems to celebrate the infinite ways sex and sexuality, especially in this generation of binary nonconformity, are constantly morphing. A double phallus having a glittery twin climax (“Fountain”); a sculpture of breasts (“Bust”) that on one side of the base sports a nose and mouth and, on the other, a vagina; an enormous sculpture resembling nothing so much as a French tickler condom (“Ribbed Tower”) … these try hard to be provocative.

Yet our reaction is more likely a smile or a chuckle. It’s all too tacky and fun to shock unless you have particularly delicate sensibilities.

Kenny Shapiro’s sculptures feel of a piece. Some are made of undergarments stiffened with liquid rubber. The garments have been radically altered by holes cut into them that are framed in flesh-toned silicone rubber, then variously filled in: with plastic mesh, a fiber abacus, a tiny goldfish behind plastic sheeting.

More kitsch and more fun. But the allusion to pleasure garments purchased in the hope of ramping up one’s sex life also implies a tender longing to feel desired, sexy, vital. They are achingly sweet in a way, while also incredibly labor-intensive in their construction.


The same sweet-sad poignancy informs dolls connected to handheld vacuums. They are also laboriously built but appear messier – like our egos – and you can’t help feeling for them each time they deflate and lie there limp, impotent and defeated.

Zero Station

There are 13 artists in “Efflorescence,” and every one of them is technically proficient – even masterful – in their skill. Some work borders on graphic illustration. Stephen Burt’s ink and gouache “Society of Mutual Aid,” for instance, looks like an old stoner poster from the 1960s, and Nancy Blum’s screen-printed “Cereus, Mauve on Gold” has a dimensional flatness and reductive representational style that convey a sense of illustration.

This is not a criticism. They are simply stylistic choices and very well done. Blum contributes “Cornflower” too, which interestingly stylizes this bloom to the point of unreality, making viewers feel like someone might have slipped them a hit of acid. Burt also shows “Ornament with Anole and Fantastical Flower,” an etching no less ravishing for its classicism, and “Bright Horizon,” a watercolor, ink and gouache that, though not thematically related to the show and graphic in the manner of William Blake etchings, has a tempestuous energy to rival ukiyo-e master Hokusai’s immortal “Wave.”

There is traditional painting, most stunningly Elise Ansel’s abstracted reimagining of Old Master floral still life. “Incandescent IV” also challenges gender, but sans the sexual imagery and Day-Glo palette seen at New System. From Ansel’s statement: “Old Master paintings were, for the most part, created by men for men. Abstraction allows me to interrupt this one-sided narrative and transform it into sensually capacious non-narrative form of visual communication that embraces multiple points of view.” Her work is both elegant and eloquent.

The sheer scale of Lorena Salcedo-Watson’s “Proteus Pincushion,” a 54-inch by 42.5-inch watercolor and charcoal on paper, makes clear the complexity and divine order of nature. The size monumentalizes her subject matter, but her expressive drafting skill also leaves a dazzlingly indelible impression.


Peter Shellenberger’s “Queen Anne’s Lace” in Zero Station’s show, “Efflorescence,” in Portland. Courtesy of Zero Station

Superficially, Peter Shellenberger’s three photographic works appear to be about flowers. But they are more accurately about light. He shoots at night, opening an exposure and setting off flashes of up to 110,000 lumens in stands of “Queen Anne’s Lace” or “Hydrangea.” The process and angles from which he shoots result in something strange and wonderful. “Lace,” for example, looks like sea grasses shot from underwater. For “Fireflies,” he put film and fireflies in a box together (they were not harmed) and exposed them overnight. Knowing what you’re looking at, however, doesn’t make it any less intriguing.

One of artist Tracey Cockrell’s “Sound Studies,” on exhibit in “Efflorescence” at Zero Station in Portland. Courtesy of Zero Station

For her “Sound Studies,” Tracey Cockrell uses vegetables harvested from a Maine farm to make papyrus that she then transforms into speakers with the use of conductive threads. (It’s too complex a process to fully describe here.) They’re mounted on old Martin guitar frets. The push of a button starts a recording of field sounds – farmers conversing, birds chirping and bees buzzing, the revving of a pickup truck engine. Nature, growth, harvest and life become one.

These are the most materially and conceptually innovative works in the show. In essence, however, they are like codas to centuries-old, and continually evolving, art media and processes, many of them on gorgeous display at Zero Station.

Jorge S. Arango has written about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at: 

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