This is my first contribution to the resurgent Portland Phoenix, but I have been writing about the art of Maine for more than 40 years, beginning in 1978 with reviews in the short-lived Portland Independent.
During the 1980s and 1990s, I was the art critic for the weekly Maine Times; one of the things that has happened on the Maine art scene since then is a shift in the center of activity. These days, you are as apt to see the best art being made in Maine in Rockland as in Portland. And that’s how my inaugural review for a Portland weekly happens to be of an exhibition at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in downtown Rockland.
“Temporality: The Process of Time” (through Feb. 23) is one of the broad concept shows CMCA is mounting in the off-years when it does not organize a biennial exhibition. Curated by associate curator Bethany Engstrom, “Temporality” features the work of 14 artists for whom time plays an integral part in their art.
Just as millennials tend to value experiences over things, the 21st century art dialogue is more about process than it is about products. The how is as important as the what. And how 14 artists manifest time in their art is the focus of “Temporality.”
Gideon Bok (Camden) makes subtle but conventional use of time in his paintings of the life of his studio. He paints what he sees, so as people come and go and things change places they are recorded with varying degrees of detail.
Carly Glovinski (Berwick) creates works that have direct yet obscure connections to specific times, such as cut-outs of Queen Anne’s lace and morning glories laid on the gallery floor, the flowers being those in bloom during the first week in August, when two of America’s endless mass shootings (El Paso and Dayton) took place. The number of blossoms correspond to the number of dead. Of course, there is no way the viewers would know this unless the artist told them.
Amy Stacey Curtis (Lyman) has made a career staging personal biennials in mill buildings all over Maine; “Temporality” is made to order for Maine’s premier conceptual artist. “Clock 11,” for example, invites viewers to turn black and white blocks at set intervals to alter a wall-mounted installation.
Grace DeGennaro (Yarmouth), a precision abstract artist with a mathematical bent akin to Curtis’, shows some watercolors from her “Equinox Series,” marking the passage of time visually with patterns of concentric circles that are as hypnotic as Op Art and mandalas.
Kate Russo (Portland) concentrates and concatenates art history by creating a series of color square grid paintings based on the palettes of paintings of bar scenes by Degas, Manet and Van Gogh. By using color as narrative, Russo connects artists, herself included, through space and time.
Clint Fulkerson (Portland) created the large wall drawing that graces the CMCA lobby by methodically marking out a system of triangles and then placing ten dots in each. The result is a schematic abstraction that is the apotheosis of methodical art.
And though I won’t pretend to understand how it works, “Vita Brevis” by Nathan Kroms Davis (Rockland) is an algorithmic video abstraction that morphs over the entire life of the exhibition as colorful marks that correspond to “resources” being used up rise vertically and then spreading out horizontally as these “resources” are exhausted.
I’m sorry space does not allow for a thought on all 14 of the featured artists, but that is the nature of a large, group exhibition. The other seven artists, no less talented or important for not being discussed in more detail are Astrid Bowlby (Brooks), Robin Mandel (Cushing), Caleb Charland (Brewer), Julie Poitras Santos (Portland), Danica Phelps (Portland) Jesse Potts (Farmington) and Deborah Wing-Sproul (Portland).
Fine art is a rarified experience. Only about a quarter of American adults visit an art museum in any given year. In Maine, which has about 1 million residents and close to 40 million visitors, only about 40,000 visit the Center for Maine Contemporary Art each year. And if CMCA audiences reflect national norms, each viewer spends between 15 and 30 seconds looking at any one work of art.
The art of “Temporality” makes demands on visitors’ time. On one hand, I doubt the majority of visitors honor these demands. On the other, the invitation to slow down and pay attention is one of art’s greatest values.
Edgar Allen Beem is a freelance writer who lives in Brunswick.