Singular artists and significant works in 2013

 A year of making do
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  December 19, 2013

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‘SHIP IN BLUE HARBOR’ By Katherine Bradford. 

The year in Maine art seemed to amplify the work of the visionary, the aesthetic pioneer, and the tirelessly laboring maker. Several of the year’s best shows — and also some of its not-so-best — fell into this category. Here are some worth remembering most.

Alex Da Corte’s bewildering exhibit at the ICA at MECA, which collected cheap and colorful novelty items collaged into large Plexiglas frames, was one of the year’s most challenging and playful exhibits, hitting notes about consumerism, class, and object desire. An exhibit of Da Corte’s cryptically poetic found objects, assembled as large cryptogrammatic sculptures, would have been tops, but the artist more than made up the difference outfitting the institute’s Evans Hunt Gallery with a salmon-pink shag carpet bolted halfway up the wall.

Who isn’t blown away by Katherine Bradford? The New York via Maine painter had a show of dazzling, deceptively simple oils at the Bowdoin Museum of Art this summer, merging nautical and celestial themes with a Philip Guston-ish eye for color, proportion, and grotesquerie. Titled “~~~AUGUST~~~,” Bradford’s show surely secured the 71-year-old a notch among the most revered living Maine artists.

Far more formally subdued than Bradford or Da Corte, I really enjoyed Adriane Herman’s work at Rose Contemporary, which expanded handwritten Post-it notes into burnished, 15-by-15-inch black-and-red plates probing the inner life of a third party midway through the process of transsexual identification. Herman was also represented in the Portland Museum of Art’s process-centric biennial show “Piece Work,” which improved considerably upon years past despite some works seeming overly concerned with the artists’ own internal sensemaking. The museum used a small printed section of disambiguated Post-It notes as wallpaper for the show’s entryway, an aesthetically interesting choice even if the section was too small to do the project full justice.

Midcoast artist James Marshall had a break-out with his first solo show at the generally excellent Icon Contemporary Art, showing a hard-labored assembly of graphite-painted paper bags stacked into arrangements of delicate, nearly vivified sculptures. Marshall works with a very original grammar of materials and aesthetics, and his stuff was no less rich and rewarding for its fixation on gray, colorless shades. Such was the same spectrum Dozier Bell worked with for her show at Bates College of foggy, romantic drawings of medieval landscapes, which dazzled Phoenix writer Britta Konau to note that “awe is not an inappropriate term” for Bell’s drawing skills. Ditto for Astrid Bowlby, who made an enviable attempt at indexing the sum total of the world’s objects over an artist-in-residence drawing show at USM’s gallery in Gorham, rendering simple line drawings of anything suggested to her onto large sheets of white paper ribboned around the room.

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