Though I don’t get to the University of Maine Museum of Art, two hours north of me in downtown Bangor, very often, I have never been disappointed when I have. The Alan Bray exhibition I saw there last fall was the best solo show I saw all year and the I-95 Triennial 2013 (through June 8) is one of the most satisfying group shows I have seen in a long time.
The I-95 Triennial 2013 is an exhibition of works by 34 artists who live along the Interstate-95 corridor in New England. The artists were selected from among 114 who applied by UMMA director George Kinghorn and Connecticut College art professor Timothy McDowell, himself an artist who showed at the Maine museum in 2009. This is the second triennial exhibition, meant to place some of Maine’s best artists in the context of the best art of the region. Though the number of submissions was low (the Portland Museum of Art biennial draws close to 1,000 entries), the quality is very high. And as with any good open juried exhibition, the discovery factor is even higher.
The 34 artists include 20 from Maine, six from Massachusetts, four from Connecticut, and two each from New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Though I have written about art in Maine since 1978, I was familiar with only seven of the Maine artists – Ilya Askinazi, Kenny Cole, Joshua Ferry, Nina Jerome, Paul Oberst, Claire Seidl and Barbara Sullivan – and none of the other 14 New England artists. I am pleased to have a whole new group of artists now on my radar.
Again as with most juried shows I have seen in recent years, photography is heavily and well represented in the UMaine triennial, 11 of the 34 featured artists working in photography. The marquee work and the juror’s prize winner is a large-format color photograph of a young Thai boxer by Noah David Bau of Melrose, Massachusetts. Bau’s four portraits of Thai children are from a series This is My Body he has been working on for three years, photographing children enrolled in a boxing camp in one of Thailand’s most notorious slums.
Other photo graphic highlights of the triennial are a pair of pictures of men diving by Kay Howell of Hull, MA; garish carnival scenes by Christopher Chadbourne of Marblehead, MA; a trio of “portraits” of antiquated communications devices (phone, TV, radio) by Robert Moran of Bar Harbor, ME; five timeless black and white architectural photographs by Ilya Askinazi of Brewer, ME; a quartet of really fine wet plate collodion prints of the female torso from the Venus Series by Lindsey Beal of Providence, RI; four obscured and blurred black and white portraits by Claire Seidl of Rangeley, ME; and a pair of conceptual photos by Cheryle St. Onge of Durham, NH, from her Natural Findings series. In this case what, St. Onge has found is a snake in box and a hand plunged into a jar containing what also looks to be a snake.
The paintings in the exhibition that I found most entertaining were a pair of large oils by Alexis Kochka of Somersworth, NH, depicting herself and her friends in the woods. At once casual and ritual, her al fresco figures act out little dramas at the intersection of nature and culture.
And you can’t not like the big, good-natured oil on linen paintings of Hawaiian shirts by Ken Sahr of Lamoine, ME. These big proxy figure paintings speak the whole length of the UMMA gallery to Kochka’s young people in the woods.
In many cases, George Kinghorn has hung the I-95 Triennial to intentional highlight visual connections and conversations between and among works of art, whether grouping black and white photographs or encouraging more subtle correspondences between, say, the scratchy graphite ball drawings of Gerri Rachins of Jamaica Plains, MA, the trio of minimal cross paintings by Joshua Ferry of South Portland, ME, and the striped fountain and wire grid prayer rig by Paul Oberst of Freedom, ME.
There is also a posturing communication between four scalloped wood and metal sculptures by J.T. Gibson of Morrill, MA, and the ceramic “nets” created by Christine Owen of Westport, CT, simply by virtue of the fact that both works lean up against the gallery wall rather than hang from it.
The I-95 Triennial is complements by an exhibition of expressive and energetic abstract paintings and drawing done in 2007 by John Bailly in response to poems by Richard Blanco. Bailly, a French-American painter born in the UK, and Blanco, a Cuban-American poet, knew one another from Miami, where Bailly teaches at Florida International University.
Maine audiences first learned of Blanco’s presence in Maine when it was announced that he had been selected to write a poem for the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, but George Kinghorn, who came to Maine in 2008 from the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, was well aware of Place of Mind: Works by John Bailly in Collaboration with Poet Richard Blanco and brought it Maine. And that really is the primary function of an academic art museum – to bring the world of art to campus, or in the case of the University of Maine Museum of Art, to the broader town-gown community of Bangor-Orono.
University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., Bangor ME, 207-561-3350, www.umma.umaine.edu