Paintings, Photographs, and Projects Galore

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2011 Portland Museum of Art Biennial

The seventh edition of the Portland Museum of Art Biennial, which began in 1998, features 65 paintings, photographs, and projects by 47 artists selected from some 3,600 works submitted to a three-person jury by 902 artists. The resultant exhibition, selected by New York art dealer Jim Kempner, painter David Row, and Smithsonian American Art Museum curator Joanna Marsh, is divided roughly equally into paintings, photographs, and installation projects and comes across as an entertaining if not very coherent art sampler.

Synergy 17 by Kim Bernard

To my eye and taste, the most memorable works in this year’s biennial are the installations. Their playfulness, inventiveness, and sheer size overpower the paintings and photographs. My favorite is an elegant and sublime ink on transparent polyester film installation by Avy Claire entitled For the Trees. Bare, ghostly trees are “drawn” on the hanging sheets of plastic. Only upon close inspection do you notice that the lines are actually words, Claire having used a fine-point Rapidograph to transcribe radio news she was hearing in her studio into the form of trees.

Someone is doing something right in the art department at Kennebunk High School, because two of the biennial installation artists are KHS grads, Natasha Bowdoin and Alisha Gould. Bowdoin, who now lives in Houston, Texas, fills a two-story gallery wall with a cut paper pencil and gouache “drawing” in the form of a bed of seaweed. Again, upon closer inspection, the text of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are hand-printed on the branches. Gould blows figurative holes in the wall of the museum’s Great Hall with her clay and ink installation Ejecta.

Untitled (Alice) by Natasha Bowdoin

Across from Gould’s eruption is an installation by University of Southern Maine professor Michael Shaughnessy that climbs all three stories of the Great Hall in a cascade of bound hay. Inside the main exhibition gallery, visitors are greeted by Kim Bernard’s kinetic Synergy 17, a line of 17 orbs of orange encaustic suspended on wires from wall-mounted brackets such that, when activated by a gallery attendant, bob and dance.

To enter the gallery, visitors literally walk on Carly Glovinsky’s work, a ramp made of phonebooks. And Lauren O’Neal contributes a pile of 60-plus chairs stacked willy-nilly against a gallery wall that struck me as comic Cubism for some reason.

For those with more conventional tastes in art, there is a plenty of a very solid conventional painting by painters Mary Aro, Carol Aronson-Shore, Thomas Connolly, Sarah Faragher, Kathleen Galligan, Marissa Girard, Sarah Knock, Rebecca Rivers, Robert Shillady, and Suzanne Sinclair. The jurors seem to have bent over backwards to accommodate the prevalence of the Maine landscape.

Photographers account for almost one-third of the exhibition, far too many in my humble opinion. There are some very fine photographs, however, chief among them Siri Kaur’s portait of female high school wrestler and Liv Kristin Robinson’s quartet of distant views of New York City.

Lest one think Portland provincial, the biennial includes artists from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas and California, albeit with Maine connections. The 2011 Portland Museum of Art Biennial is on view until June 5.


Kristie by Siri Kaur

[Portland Museum of Art, Seven Congress Square, Portland ME, 207-775-6148.]


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