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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: June 3, 2015

A greatest-hits survey of Maine art: ‘Directors’ Cut’ at Portland Museum of Art

Written by: Bob Keyes

The story of Maine spills out on the painted canvases and photographic prints that hang in the galleries of the Portland Museum of Art this summer. There are golden Monhegan sunsets, lonely paeans to Mount Katahdin and iconic images of the efforts of men who built boats, harvested timber and tamed the rivers.

“Directors’ Cut: Selections from the Maine Art Museum Trail” is a greatest-hits survey of Maine art, a mini-retrospective of 200 years of culture, told with contributions from eight museums statewide. The holy trinity is represented here: Winslow Homer, Marsden Hartley and the Wyeths – along with the supporting tier of Maine art royalty, from John Marin and Rockwell Kent to Robert Indiana and Alex Katz.

Other names of note: Nevelson, Dodd, Estes, Bisbee and Bellows.

The Portland show is intended as a gateway exhibition. Museum directors hope people like what they see in Portland and visit the other museums. They’re also hoping the Maine tourism industry takes note.

“With one voice together, we have much more leverage to talk about the arts in Maine,” PMA director Mark Bessire said. “We’d like to see the state do a better job presenting culture as one element of the Maine brand of tourism. The visual arts tells such a great story, and we don’t use it enough.”

Art and culture have defined Maine to the outside world for 200 years, since artists began coming to Monhegan and established the Maine art tradition. In the art of Maine, Bessire believes, we see the story of Maine and its independence, its self-sufficiency and its strength of character. The art reflects “why we live here and why people want to visit Maine,” he said.

The exhibition takes its name from the way the show came together. Each museum director offered a selection of art that best represents that museum’s collection. Bessire brought it together, and arranged it by institution.

The University of Maine Museum of Art offers photos by Berenice Abbott, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. She was best known for her New York photos, and those are included here, as are examples of her lesser-known work from Maine.

The Farnsworth Art Museum tapped its depth of all things Wyeth, bringing forth iconic images from N.C., Andrew and Jamie. It also came up with one of Indiana’s early-90s prints from “The Hartley Elegies” series, an homage to Hartley.

From Waterville, Colby museum director Sharon Corwin sent a quick survey of Maine landscape painting, with contributions old and new from George Bellows, Richard Estes, John Marin, Rackstraw Downes, Alex Katz, Yvonne Jacquette and Lois Dodd.

The Dodd is a relatively recent painting, from 2007, from her house fire series. The canvas is ablaze in red and orange, and Bessire used it as the hinge for the rest of the show. It’s big, bold and colorful, and Bessire didn’t want to hang it in the immediate vicinity of any other painting. He gave it its own wall, near the middle of the gallery. It is visible from the Great Hall, and draws people in.

Ogunquit museum director Ron Crusan brought along paintings from the founders of the Ogunquit art colony, Charles Woodbury and Hamilton Easter Field, among others. Bowdoin owns a large repository of artifacts related to Winslow Homer, and here we see his brushes, a John Calvin Stevens’ drawing of the painter’s Prouts Neck studio, photos and other related things. Similarly, Bates brought forth much of its material related to Hartley, who was born in Lewiston. Bates tells the Hartley story through his artistic circle, with drawings by Carl Sprinchorn and paintings be Chenoweth Hall.

As Monhegan was and remains a destination for a variety of artists working in different media and styles, the Monhegan Museum gives us a nice overview of those whose work we have come to expect – Kent, Bellows, etc. – as well as pieces from abstract expressionist John Hultberg and sculptor Louise Nevelson.

The PMA complemented the work of the other museums, deferring as host to the first wishes of its guests. Bessire chose contemporary sculpture by John Bisbee and Lauren Fensterstock, as well as photos from Melonie Bennett and David Stess.

It’s all part of the ever-evolving conversation about art in Maine and art in America, Bessire said.

The rest of America talks about art in terms of its cities. The art scene in New York is distinct from the art scene in Chicago or Atlanta or Los Angeles. In Maine, we talk about the art scene as a statewide concern.

“Maine is the only place where that happens,” Bessire said. “And that’s what we’re here to celebrate.”

“Directors’ Cut: Selections from the Maine Art Museum Trail”

WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square
WHEN: On view through Sept. 20; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; until 9 p.m. Friday and 9 p.m. on the third Thursday
HOW MUCH: Including a $5 surcharge associated with this exhibition, $17 adults; $15 seniors and students with ID; $11 13 to 17; 12 and younger free
INFO: 207-775-6148 or portlandmuseum.org

 

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