The Portland Museum of Art on Feb. 17 hosted its first Winter Bash since the start of the pandemic, with 250 art lovers mingling all around its grounds – throughout the North Atlantic Triennial exhibit, around the newly acquired property on Free Street and out to fire pits and a refreshment tent.

The open-air nature of the Contemporaries’ Bash minimized viral transmission while showcasing the PMA’s growing campus, including the former Children’s Museum. Meanwhile, the Bash theme of “friluftsliv,” the traditional Nordic embrace of the outdoors, aligned with “Down North,” the first exhibition devoted to contemporary art of the North Atlantic region, from Maine and the Canadian Maritimes to Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Faroe Islands, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

“Having an international exhibit with an art exchange – well, that’s what regional art museums do, and that’s what we want to be,” said trustee Karen McDonald of Scarborough. “The show goes to Iceland in October, and then on to Sweden. And it has the PMA name on it.”

Co-organized by the PMA, the Reykjavík Art Museum in Iceland and the Bildmuseet in Sweden, the exhibit widens the focus of what we might see as “regional,” like zooming out on a map of the North Atlantic. In that view, Maine is the North Atlantic gateway to the United States and what happens in the Arctic Circle – from overfishing to global warming – affects us, and vice versa. The selected works capitalize on the narrative potential of art as a catalyst for change through a variety of mediums, from painting and sculpture to fiber and digital arts.

“I like seeing works from Iceland and Sweden with Maine,” said “Down North” photographic artist Christopher Carroll of Skowhegan. “It connects the thread of the North Atlantic and highlights our commonalities around environmentalism.”

Even with a more international artist pool, the Winter Bash was an opportunity for event-goers to hobnob with the artists themselves, even if accidentally.

“There was a Maine artist who created digitally what looked like drifting snow,” said Angela Campbell of Portland. “I said out loud, ‘This is mesmerizing,’ and the artist was beside me. Where does that happen?” (The piece, Clifford Ross’ “Light Waves IV,” is a computer-generated video on an LED wall inspired by the movement of waves.)

Other Maine artists featured include Jason Brown, a Wabanaki performer known as Firefly, as well as Lauren Fensterstock, Reggie Burrows Hodges, Justin Levesque, Joshua Reiman and Peter Soriano. The exhibition is open through June 5.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]

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