The big news in the visual art scene in Maine this fall is the opening of the newly expanded Zillman Art Museum, the flagship museum of the University of Maine in downtown Bangor. The museum renamed itself last year in honor of donors and longtime supporters Linda and Donald Zillman, and on Sept. 11 will open five new galleries thanks to a $1.6 million expansion project the museum completed during the pandemic.

The Zillman Art Museum in Bangor will feature photos from Czech photographer Roman Franc. Courtesy of Zillman Art Museum

The expansion increases exhibition space by 48 percent, and will help the museum bolster its reputation as a leading presenter and collector of contemporary art in Maine, said museum director George Kinghorn. Several Maine museums collect contemporary art, but the Zillman is dedicated to collecting only contemporary art, Kinghorn said. The expansion brings its exhibition capacity to 5,000 square feet and will enable the museum to do its job better by showing more art and a wider range of artists.

“This will enable us to move the museum to a different level in terms of visibility,” he said. “Over the years we have developed a reputation for bringing in some of the finest contemporary artists working in the country today, and that has garnered us attention throughout New England and beyond. Thanks to the Zillman’s lead gift, and to contributions from many other donors, the Zillman Art Museum will be an even greater destination for those who wish to experience the art of our time.”

Since it opened within historic Norumbega Hall in downtown Bangor 20 years ago, the museum has felt a little awkward and out of the way, because most people entered the building from Harlow Street on the second level, then descended a set of stairs to the museum’s main entrance below. Now, the museum’s main entrance is on the second level just as you enter the historic brick building, with glass doors and a partial glass wall that invite people to come see what’s inside. Admission is free.

“Hiking Boot,” a painted sculpture by Sidney Russell, will be on view at the Zillman Art Museum beginning Sept. 11. Photo by Anastasiia Sapon, courtesy of Zillman Art Museum

For the opening, Kinghorn and his staff have filled the welcoming space, called the Friends Gallery, with new acquisitions on view for the first time. The first thing people see  is the large-scale painting “Cabeza de Vaca” by French-American artist John Bailly, a painting titled “Harlequin’s Romance” by James Linehan and a sculpture, “Parkway,” by Steve Bartlett.

The expansion means the museum can mount several shows at once. It will open eight distinct exhibitions on Sept. 11.

“We are quite busy here, because we now have a lot more galleries to program,” Kinghorn said. “Not only does the expansion enhance the visitor experience, but the five new galleries allow us to showcase works from the contemporary collection and mount exhibitions of nationally significant contemporary artists. The museum’s goal has always been to introduce audiences to artists that one would typically have to travel to larger urban centers to encounter.”

Among the opening exhibitions is “The Big Stitch” by Sidney Russell, an artist from San Francisco known for experimenting with materials and bridging painting and sculpture. In Bangor, she is showing her monumental-scale clothing, which she makes by painting on canvas and muslin and then fashioning oversized Hawaiian shirts, running shoes and other similar articles. Boston-based painter Emily Eveleth is showing her enigmatic narrative and mysterious paintings in “Future Possessive,” and Czech photographer Roman Franc is featured in a show titled “Watch the Birdie!”

The late artist Anne Arnold, known for her whimsical sculptures, has a solo show, “The Soul of It.” There’s a photo show by Amy Stein, a painting exhibition by Shona MacDonald and group shows of new acquisitions and photos from the collection. “It’s quite an array of shows that we have for the grand opening,” Kinghorn said.

That should be the norm going forward, he said.

With a gift of $1.3 million from the Zillmans last spring, the museum quickly raised the balance to complete the project relatively quickly.

“We had a bit of a delay with the construction because of the pandemic, but once we were cleared to go, the contractor came in and moved swiftly,” Kinghorn said. “This is a big deal for us. We relied on the generosity of our donors, and it’s been a wonderful project to complete during a very difficult year.”

“Hawaiian Shirt,” a painted sculpture by Sidney Russell, is part of the artist’s series of clothing made to monumental scale. Courtesy of Zillman Art Museum

The Zillman Art Museum, 40 Harlow St., Bangor, will celebrate its expansion Sept. 11 by opening eight new exhibitions. Admission is free. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Masks are required. For details, visit zam.umaine.edu.


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