Midcentury maestros

 Pollack collection dances with modernism
By NICK SCHROEDER  |  July 10, 2014

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'PYRAMIDES' by Alexander Calder; lithograph in colors, 28 1/2 by 28 inches; 1970 

As Maine’s art tourists gobble up the area’s major summer exhibits—Richards Estes and Brown Lethem, Andrea Sulzer, and the inexhaustible Alex Katz—they’d be smart not to overlook the fine arts enclave on Forest Ave., where collector Edward Pollack has operated for much of the past decade.

What you find within the rooms at Pollack’s gallery is very much like an armory of tools, each helping to pry open the vaults of 20th-century modernist art for its wealth of ideas. Comprised mostly of prints (with plenty of drawings, etchings, photographs, and a few paintings), the collection has serious work by no shortage of influential figures: diverse American players like Louise Nevelson, Robert Motherwell, and John Heliker; emigrant fixtures like Karl Schrag, Gabor Peterdi, and Mauricio Lasansky; and revered 20th century realists like John Sloan, Will Barnet, Rockwell Kent, John Marin, and more.

Boasting marginalia from major names as well as representative works from some fascinating 20th-century behemoths, this is no doubt a collector’s show—and one priced accordingly, with few pieces priced at under a grand and some pushing $40,000. Some seem purely for fascination alone—like an opaque drawing of Mary Cassatt’s circa 1878. Yet many from this show’s back room succeed in framing a small, useful study of a particular artist, as with six wood engravings from early ‘30s Rockwell Kent, or numerous etchings and lithographs from the Social Realist émigré painter Raphael Soyer. But the effect of this ample collection of pieces—besides reflecting the impressive dedications of their collector—is like a multiform slideshow of the fixations of evolving modernist subjects, covering anywhere from blue collar waterfronts, quotidian street scenes, or deconstructed and cleverly queered nudes.

Most serious gawking could be done in the front end, which focuses on small series of significant works by notable European-born and American printmakers and woodcut artists, many of whose work were often bound in the exigencies of World War II. While lacking in the political content which would define him, several fine woodcuts from Antonio Frasconi, a Uruguayan of Italian descent who lived in Connecticut from 1945 until his death last year, assert the artist’s position as one of the century’s masters of the form. Striking to a degree bordering on grotesque are seven print portraits from ‘50s-vintage Mauricio Lasansky, an artist who came to be best known for his “Nazi Drawings” depicting the brutality of the corps of the Third Reich. He’s less venomous here, renderingZ large engraved images of Charles Darwin, Leo Tolstoy, and himself.

Pollack’s collection is smartly arranged in clusters by artist, yet its most memorable works stand alone. A woodcut titled “Queensbridge” (c. 1955) by the short-lived artist John Bernhardt displays a budding eye toward the energies of postwar New York, while the magnificent “Pyramides,” a 1970 lithograph by the visionary sculptor and kinetic artist Alexander Calder, inventor of the mobile, is a celebration of geometry, space, and chromatics. And Louise Nevelson, whose life in sculpture has consistently prodded the form along, she’s here twice, most memorably in a stern, reverential lithograph (untitled) hanging just above the gallery entrance.

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