Maine Art New

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Installation view of John Bisbee's welded nail sculpture.

Installation view of John Bisbee's welded nail sculpture.

Great Haul by Anna Hepler hung in Great Hall at Portland Museum of Art.

Great Haul by Anna Hepler hung in Great Hall at Portland Museum of Art.

Artist Charlie Hewitt in his Portland studio.

Artist Charlie Hewitt in his Portland studio.

Though only a handful of readers may have noticed, Just Looking is now being posted every two weeks instead of once a week. In part this is because I will be spending much of my time in 2011 writing and editing Maine Art New, a sequel to my 1990 book Maine Art Now.

Maine Art New will attempt to document and assess contemporary art in Maine from 1990 to the present. Unlike Maine Art Now, which consisted of profiles, articles, and reviews I wrote for Maine Times in the 1980s, everything in Maine Art New will be new and it won’t all be written by me. I will be writing about half the book and editing it all, but we have enlisted ten other art writers to contribute topical essays and artist profiles.

“We” is gallerist Andres Verzosa and myself. Andy owns Aucocisco Galleries in Portland and Maine Art New was pretty much his idea. For the past few years, Andy has been bugging me to update Maine Art Now, but I just didn’t think a new book on contemporary art in Maine was economically feasible. Maine Art Now was only possible because it simply reprinted existing work. Though it was critically well received, I think it only sold about 2,000 copies. I made less money on the book than I did on any one of the feature articles reprinted in it.

Though we like to ballyhoo Maine’s creative economy and downtown Portland is wonderfully full of people on First Friday Art Walks (which Andy co-founded), the audience for serious contemporary art in Maine is small, the number of people interested enough in art to read about it even smaller.

Then Andy came up with the idea of securing funding to underwrite a new Maine art book and wrote a successful grant application to the Quimby Family Foundation, started by Burt’s Bee’s founder Roxanne Quimby to fund arts and environmental projects. Roxanne has been busy of late establish the Quimby Colony as an artists’ retreat program in Portland. She got behind Maine Art New and enabled it to happen. (Quimby has recently hired former Portland Museum of Art director Dan O’Leary to direct all of her non-profit ventures.)

Back in 2000, when I gave some thought to artists who had become important in Maine since the publication of Maine Art Now, I only came up with about eight, chief among them sculptor John Bisbee and painters Brett Bigbee and Greg Parker. I figured if I added Charlie Hewitt and Alison Hildreth to the mix, I’d pretty much have Maine Art Now up to date. Another decade on, however, the ranks of exciting new artists in Maine has swelled considerably, chief among the emergence of a cadre of installation artists including Greta Bank, Amy Stacey Curtis, Lauren Fensterstock, Anna Hepler, Randy Regier, and Aaron Stephan.

Originally, Andy and I thought Maine Art New might simply consist of 100 artist profiles, each with full-page illustration. As the idea for the book has evolved, we have scaled back the number of profiles in order to have more money and room for chapter-length essays. The artists to be profiled were selected from a list of some 350 in collaboration with more than two dozen art professionals.

Maine Art New will be published by the University of Maine Press in the fall of 2012, giving us all of 2011 to prepare the text and the press most of 2012 to design the book and get it printed. It is our intent that Maine Art New celebrate the diversity of visual creativity in Maine at the turn of the 21st century.

(Note: The wonderful photograph of Anna Hepler’s Great Haul was taken by Scott Peterman, another important Maine artist who will be profiled in Maine Art New.)


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