Odd year ahead for museums and galleries

2011 brings the Biennial and much more
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  December 29, 2010

art_bowdoin_main
‘UNTITLED (ALICE)’ Pencil and gouache on paper, by Natasha Bowdoin, 2010, in the PMA Biennial.
Remember, for every droopy tarp stalactite that makes it into a museum lobby installation, there are dozens of similar (and similarly impressive) creatures that never leave a studio wall. 2010 was a landmark year for site-specific work; with Portland's First Friday Art Walk more popular than ever, artists are less concerned with accessibility, focusing their attentions on the work itself and trusting that their audience will find them.

Many of 2011's art highlights are mysteries; until all of those unfold, here are some of the treats we can count on.

At the head of the pack, the PORTLAND MUSEUM OF ART has announced its roster of upcoming exhibitions. The annual Youth Art Month will feature more than 100 works by Maine students throughout March. A summer-long showing of the works of early Modernist painter John Marin — who spent half his life in Maine — should serve as an abstract counterpoint to the seacoast landscapes of last summer's Winslow Homer exhibition. And in October, an exhibition of 70 photo essays by Rangeley artist Madeleine de Sinéty endeavors to document the unexamined life; in logging villages upstate, nationally acclaimed artists living off-the-grid in Rangeley, and farm families in coastal France.

While each of these shows should garner plenty of diverse interest, PMA's prize event this year is the 2011 PORTLAND MUSEUM OF ART BIENNIAL, coming April 7. This year's assembly of 66 Maine-related artists includes nine Biennial returnees; among them Sargentville's Mary Aro (abstract realist landscapes), Brunswick's Mark Wethli (whose recent folk art paintings on found wood contain dramatic, emotional depth), and Portland's Colleen Kinsella (whose work combines post-impressionistic forms with contemporary Balkan art). An intriguing batch of artists fill out the roster — both established names and young artists rounding into form. What, with such a cornucopia of artists, can we expect? Look for Suzannah Sinclair's paintings — which romanticize a bygone Americana with lurid nudes in repose — the cinematic cityscape stills of Heath Paley, and Kennebunk native Natasha Bowdoin's sprawling assemblages. Also, it should be exciting to see what the dexterous multimedia/performance artist Deborah Wing-Sproul arrives with.

USM'S ART GALLERY in Gorham welcomes back the talented Astrid Bowlby (a USM BFA) for a month-long residency in March. A prolific installation artist, Bowlby's drawings are characterized by her intricate miniaturized precision — sometimes used to dramatic excess, resulting in impenetrable fields of black ink. Bowlby, whose subject is just as often the overabundance of stuff as an isolated look at what that stuff may contain, has aptly titled her forthcoming piece at USM "Doodle."

The BOWDOIN MUSEUM OF ART continues to feature thoughtful and challenging work from across the artistic spectrum. In 2010 the museum paired a frantic video installation by a punk art luminary (Raymond Pettibon) with a scholarly catalog of post-Renaissance chairs. In February, it will display the work of the late illustrator R. Crumb — that famous stanchion of the house of "low" art — in "The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis." Crumb's signature bawdiness will surely do its part in transgressing the piety of the book, but his astounding reverence (207 illustrations incorporate every word from all 50 chapters) will probably add new dimensions well beyond the reach of satire.

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