Some wild assemblies in store for Maine art

Turning on the news
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  December 26, 2013

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‘FIRST STORY — MOUNT OF FORGETFULNESS’ Still image by Hala Elkoussy, 2010.

Nearly three years have passed since protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square sparked the Egyptian Revolution, enough time for a generation of the region’s art to frame the insurgence in its incipient stages and aftermath. It’s rare to get a first-hand look at this stuff in the States — rarer still in Maine — so the assembly of contemporary Egyptian artists is something to anticipate in early 2014, as Colby College’s Museum of Art hosts a video primer covering the work of six of Egypt’s engaged artists from late January through June. Included among the multimedia works of “Histories of Now: Six Artists from Cairo” are the stylized street photography of Sabah Naim, a film about stammering as a metaphor for the absence of political expression by Shady El Noshokaty, and “30 Days of Running In the Place,” a three-channel video installation that combines video footage of the masses in revolt with the staged action events of Ahmed Basiony, who was assassinated by Egyptian police in the Tahrir riots in January 2011.

One of Maine’s own most committed political artists, the installationist Kenny Cole, gets a two-month slot for his works in Bangor’s University of Maine Museum of Art. Cole has seemingly moved on from the cryptic, text-heavy images of dissent that were his focus a few years ago. Those pieces were effective and rich with detail, yet their content was so explicitly political that they risked inundating the viewer with information you might find on an ambitious protester’s placard. There’s a subtler hand guiding his newer work, which uses color, the symbology of loosely connected images, and significant material (many of his canvases are old newspapers) to shape Cole’s truth-seeking commentary and admirable willingness to explore it. That’s on view from mid-January through March 18.

While fulfilling our generations’ endless demand for party tricks and whimsical, postmodern entertainment, the Surrealist art retrospectives of our era have more-or-less stripped the movement of its original political content. Don’t expect the exhibit at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, “Under the Surface: Surrealist Photography,” to reverse the trend. On view from late February to June 1, the collection considers the 1920s French movement for its considerable advancements in the art-historical, spotlighting the freely associated, symbolic fringe where artists have long shrouded their most interesting ideas — and letting viewers provide historical context where they see fit.

In the Portland circuit, Aucocisco doubles down on the system of artist pairings it debuted this fall. The duos roll out through the spring; highlights include the emotionally driven color field collisions of oil painter Claire Seidl with the spare, rhythmic acrylics of Scott Davis; the light and luminous floral patterns of Gail Spaien airing out the ominous beauty of Dozier Bell’s dense landscapes; and in January, an exciting marriage of Lauren Fensterstock’s dark, cut-paper horticulture and Lucinda Bliss’s lurid and inscrutable aviary narratives.

Welcomely, the Portland Museum of Art goes the contemporary route for its tourist-luring summer schedule. Its flagship exhibit weighs the photorealist paintings of Richard Estes, an Illinois painter known for his clean and evanescent scenes of American city life, while a four-month display of Brunswick artist Andrea Sulzer appraises process and design techniques via drawings and sculptural forms and her signature poetical touch.

And drawing on the successes of exhibits past, SPACE Gallery re-ups its “Free For All” series, probably one of the simplest and most rewarding ways young artists can get work shown. Bring something to the gallery between January 9 and 11 for consideration in the winter show mounting a week later. 

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