Art galleries tend to come and go with the economy. When I first started looking at contemporary art in the 1960s, there was only one serious art gallery in Portland, Maine -Frost Gully Gallery, which eventually returned to Freeport from whence it came. By 1987, at the height of the 1980s boom, there were more than a dozen, only one of which – Greenhut Galleries (then Posters Plus) – is still in business today.
Two decades on, there are again about a dozen art galleries in Portland, 10 of which are the subject of The Business of Art, a fine survey of the local art market at the University of New England Art Gallery on the UNE Portland campus (through September 2).
UNE gallery director Anne Zill, inspired by what she saw in the city’s galleries, invited the owners of A Fine Thing, Aucocisco Galleries, Elizabeth Moss Gallery, Greenhut Galleries, Jameson Gallery, June Fitzpatrick Galleries, Susan Maasch Fine Art, Sarajo, The Daniel Kany Gallery, and Whitney Art Works to select representative works from their galleries. The result is a Portland potpourri that runs the gamut from pottery, glass, and antique prints to contemporary paintings, prints, and drawings.
Just within the realm of painting, The Business of Art features everything from the watery realism of Sarah Knock (Greenhut) to the latterday Impressionism of Stephen Pace and the minimal abstraction of Noriko Sakanishi (June Fitzpatrick). There are also drawings by the late Bernard Langlais (Aucocisco), fanciful glass lures by Richard Remsen (Daniel Kany), and antique textiles (Sarajo).
As Elizabeth Moss Gallery is in suburban Falmouth, the inclusion of Frost Gully Gallery out in Freeport might have made The Business of Art a more comprehensive look at what’s on the art market in Greater Portland. But as it is, the UNE show is a welcome celebration of the survival of art commerce in a down economy.
Art is a confidence game, in a very real and very positive sense. Dealers, curators, fellow artists, and to a lesser degree art critics conspire to create buyer confidence in the lasting value of an artist’s work.
“The dealer,” writes gallerist Daniel Kany, “selects and stands behind the work he sells; it is my job, if you will, to select the ‘philosophical object’ for my clients rather than some fashion industry tchotchke that will look like a pass