'IDUNA — LOVE GODDESS OF THE NORSE' Mask of Thai Kozo with layered orchid paper and fist fibre, by Diane Green Hebert.
Fittingly set in Fryeburg Academy's still relatively unknown Pace Galleries — a lovely showroom built on the annex of the school's Performing Arts Center in 2009 — "Strangers and Others" is a complex, mysterious, and densely packed assembly of figurative works. The show's 15 Maine-based artists — guest-curated by VoxPhotographs director Heather Frederick — deal equally in sculpture and photography, providing several confrontational, devotional, and meaningful variations on the theme of the human form.

Once inside, the pomo-meets-antiquity aesthetic of photo artist Brenton Hamilton gives the show an appropriately cryptic start. Using a gum bichromate printing process in ten frames of fractured, sometimes grotesquely collaged Renaissance-style portraits, Hamilton treats the faces in each like alien topography, obscuring their features with cutouts of disarticulated eyes and baroque architectural scenes. If it sounds obscure, it is — "Strangers" is a figurative show, yet Hamilton's prints immediately diffract the energy away from the traditional human form, reformatting the figures in his portraits as grounds for an assortment of art-historical signifiers.

John Wilkinson's exquisitely detailed symbolic sculptures share little in appearance with Hamilton's prints, yet also seem to reflect bygone movements in art history. The excellent carriage scene of "Gift Bearers" recalls the orotund figurative forms of German Expressionism, while the gypsum figurine tableaux of "Gate" is a scene from Roman antiquity. Wilkinson's sculptures are the most personable of the exhibit, and the way they stand watch over the gallery's checkpoints is one of the highlights of "Strangers."

Witty and confrontational, Aaron Stephan's works reference a thornier aspect of contemporary art, the tenuous relationship between artist and viewer. Most affecting are the enormous plywood statues in the building's lobby — one aims a gun at an unarmed other — which transpose the conditions of performance artist Chris Burden's most infamous piece onto anyone who dares enter the building. Elsewhere, several white display pedestals are placed throughout the exhibit — Stephan has equipped these decoys with feet and named them "Pedantics" — while a conventional pedestal displays tiny figurines in a circular formation of the spectacle, gathered around nothing at all. I adored Gary Ambrose's wooden sculptures, particularly the sinewy and gorgeous "Pink," a metaphorical piece of two tall, gently arching pine branches coated with wisps of bright pink acrylic paint. Fused together at their crowning point, the branches subtly, exultantly suggest feminine standing legs, delicately balancing erotic undertones with a strange and lovely emotional content. "Thoughts on the Figure" is slightly more formal — articulating both hip bones and a spine — but its figurative ambiguities are tastefully accented by its brushwork, which blends soft pink and blue hues. Another sculptural highlight is Diane Green Hebert's Kozo masks, which she's adorned with found natural objects and mounted onto black canvases. These are delicate and thoughtfully symbolic; Hebert's second-stage deconstructive process after the initial construction of the masks nicely echoes the slow permutation of a myth over time.

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Related: Treasure trove, Review: Be more Curious at SPACE Gallery, Traveling critic seeks art to review, More more >
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