Poetic sense

Age of art
By KEN GREENLEAF  |  December 23, 2008

"CHINA ZAK" By Richard Van Buren, from his January show at Aucocisco.

For the last end-of-the-year review I had to rely on the kindness and opinions of others, having just started reviewing again after a long hiatus. This year I am, thankfully, on my own. Ten bests and other lists are foolish judgments to make in art, so I am just going to revisit the shows that have stayed with me over the months. Your own mileage may vary.

The two shows by living artists that I am most grateful for having seen were the big Lois Dodd show at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and the small Richard Van Buren show at Aucocisco. The most memorable show was the "Landscapes From the Age of Impressionism" show at the Portland Museum of Art.

The Lois Dodd show, a compendium of some 50 paintings from a span of almost as many years, proved once again that she is a formidable painter indeed. The subtle wit, pictorial intelligence, and downright quality of the work made that show one of the best things that happened in art in Maine all year.

The Richard Van Buren show in January was a single gallery room of his recent work, and was clearly the best show of sculpture in Maine all year. His interweaving of vibrant color and complex shapes has the improvisational feel of bebop jazz. He was consistently able to bring coherence from apparent disorder, making his pieces resonant and entirely convincing. Dodd and Van Buren are both veteran artists, proving that age and experience can add up to real artistic ability.

I've been back to see the "Landscapes From the Age of Impressionism" show a couple of times. It's a mixed show, and instructive for its presentation of some true Impressionist works combined with Barbizon painters who influence Impressionism and Americans who looked at Impressionism for lessons. I went back for the several truly wonderful paintings that are in it. My favorite is Monet's "The Islets at Port-Villez," which I think is a candidate for the best painting in Maine at this moment. The Courbets also look better the more you see them. There's still a couple of weeks to see that show again. (It closes January 4.)

Arthur Ganson's little machines at ICA at MECA early in the year were compelling exercises in the poetics of machinery, or vice versa. At once amusing and engaging, they elicited consideration of how we think about the material universe.

Two modest shows stand out in memory. The charcoal drawings of Emily Nelligan and prints by Marvin Bileck at Fitzpatrick last summer were small marvels, complete, solid, and convincing. In wholly different tone, Bob McKibben's meditations on the fate of French children at the hands of the Nazis had a quiet but relentless energy that stays with you.

Jon Imber's show of abstract paintings at Greenhut was another high point in the year. Imber has learned how to make poetic sense out of what seems at first to be a random jumble of strokes and patches of color. His painting set out their terms of engagement and then hold the viewers attention until the clarity of the relationship of the parts to the whole becomes clear.

I was taken, as usually happens to me, by the pictorial clarity of the Japanese ukiyo-e prints in the small show at Bowdoin College Museum of Art in March. I wish there were a show of those prints all the time somewhere, for reference. Any complete awareness of modernist art has to take in the influence these prints have had on the visual world we now occupy.

And speaking of Bowdoin, Lauren Fensterstock's installation "Parterre" in that museum in October managed to be simultaneously urbane, coherent, and unsettling.

Ken Greenleaf can be reached at ken.greenleaf@gmail.com.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Culture and Lifestyle, Landscapes From The Age Of Impressionism, Aucocisco,  More more >
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