Words over pictures

By KEN GREENLEAF  |  September 3, 2008

German artist HOLGER FREISE’S proposal takes digitized images of faces and presents them in varying degrees of closeness. As you get farther away they are easier to see as faces. This would also happen as you traveled around the tank, starting as almost purely geometric composition and resolving into a recognizable face. His presentation uses famous people for subjects, and may use famous Mainers if he does the final project. There would be some ironic value in having a picture of Maine’s most famous personality, Stephen King, on the top of an oil tank for consideration by the passengers on an aircraft about to descend to the most dangerous point in the flight, the landing. Also, it would be fun to see him looking up at you from Google Earth with that wicked grin of his.

Based on what I have seen so far, the one design I would most want to drive past on a regular basis would be Gili’s. It’s simple, dynamic, and based on itself. Of the five semifinalists, it would have the most staying power. All the others have a message that needs to be decoded to be understood, as if there were wall texts somewhere on I-295, or maybe in a repeated announcement broadcast on the Maine Turnpike’s AM radio frequency. Friese’s digitized picture project is intriguing, but in the short run would, I think, be distracting and in the long run, a little wearing.

feat_tanks_Friese1.jpg
PIXELATED FACES: Holger Friese’s geometric vision.

In a larger context
There are a couple of assertions in the publicity work for "Art All Around" that deserve some attention. While the list of semifinalists does include a couple of artists who need passports to get here, it is not really an international-scale undertaking. Big, yes, but simply not world-class — more the Portland Pirates than the Boston Red Sox.

Portland is already an arts destination, but that has more to do with the galleries and artists that are here already, working and showing, in some cases for many years. Painting these tanks isn’t going to add anything to the luster that is the result of the work of Greenhut, Caldbeck, Icon, Fitzpatrick, or Aucocisco galleries, and artists such as Bill Manning, Richard Van Buren, Emily Nelligan, Fred Lynch, and a great many others.

The wide-ranging Maine artistic infrastructure was built from the pioneering work of Juris Ubans, Vincent Hartgen, Grant and Shirley Jacks, and, in a later generation, Bruce Brown and many others, all of whom understood that the real creative economy is a product of the hard work of artists, dealers, and curators over the long haul. That’s why people interested in art come here.

As for boosting the creative economy, this project has a budget of $1.2 million. Out of that, the semifinalists each got an award of $7500 to refine and present their proposals, which seems to me a reasonable amount. It gave them money to travel and time to work up a more detailed study.

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