'WEST POINT, PROUTS NECK' Oil on canvas, by Winslow Homer, 1900.
If the stuff of the greatest magnitude in established art circles can usually be found at the PORTLAND MUSEUM OF ART, that truism is especially valid this fall, when the museum reveals a cluster of Winslow Homer retrospectives to celebrate the restoration of the Maine painter's studio in Prouts Neck. The PMA opens the remote Winslow Homer Studio for guided tours beginning September 25, while three distinct Homer-related exhibits can be seen at the museum through January. Retrospectives of other giants are still on view at the OGUNQUIT MUSEUM OF ART, which observes figure painters Henry Strater and Carlo Pittore through October, and the FARNSWORTH ART MUSEUM, which thumps for the Impressionist Frank W. Benson through December.
With the PMA's dedication to the Homer project one of the forces nudging next year's Biennial from spring to late summer, the odd-year version of the event at the CENTER FOR MAINE CONTEMPORARY ART stands compellingly on its own. Seventeen Maine artists will exhibit works at the Rockport CMCA, highlighted by Luc Demers's cryptic photography, Lisa Kellner's sculptural installations of diaphanous living cultures, and the decaying tablets of Jonathan Mess, which anxiously examine land use and geological origin.
Another to appear at the CMCA Biennial is sculptor and conceptual artist Aaron T. Stephan, though a deeper inquest into his work could be made at Portland's AUCOCISCO GALLERIES in October, at a solo show bearing the provocative title "Aggressive Uninterest." Over the last decade, Stephan's work has been some of the most engaging and thought-provoking in Maine, constantly upending the proprieties of the art world while uncomfortably merging high and low concepts and discourses. While we await word about the actual nature of "Aggressive Uninterest," a sentiment to be inferred from Stephan's work rings especially true amid these mini-industries of enduring masters: the process of artmaking contains a certain amount of taking the piss.
Which brings us to an intriguing new venture in the Portland bar scene: "PAINT NITE," a group meeting at a local pub four nights a week to throw a few back and "recreate" a classic painting (or start your own). Begun in Boston (with another branch starting in New York), the Portland version can be found weekly at Brian Boru, Fore Play, Bull Feeney's, and the Wine Bar, and sounds like a perfectly good option for merging your creative and social energies.
If that is an obvious attempt to peel away the distinctions between creation and observation, there are several fall exhibits more nuanced. SPACE GALLERY prepares itself for a visit from Godzilla, the recent art-obsession of Greta Bank, who teams with Scott Peterson for a video/installation/performance piece throughout October. At USM'S AREA GALLERY on the Portland campus, the New York ecological art duo smudge studio (Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse) present an installation titled "Zuihitsu: At the Mercy of the Waves," illuminating their imaginative, site-specific living systems work. While smudge studio find inspiration in the geological pulse of their environments, the interactive installation artist Liz Phillips (also from New York) locates the heartbeat firmly in the human body, amplifying and activating it through environments she treats with water, sound, light, and other obstacles. Her work, titled "Biyuu" (an onomatopoetic Japanese word for the sound of bamboo bending in wind), is aided by a Butoh dancer and on display September 20 through November 4 at the UMF ART GALLERY in Farmington.