LEWISTON – Opening June 12 at the Bates College Museum of Art are exhibitions of work by two prominent artists with Maine connections, and a third exhibition revealing a compelling response to HIV/AIDS.
The exhibition “Medium and Abstraction” explores influences at work in the wood reliefs of the late, beloved Maine artist Bernard Langlais. Rarely seen images by a pioneer in American modern art are displayed in “Landscape Drawings from the Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection.”
Finally, a therapeutic approach to self-portraiture for women infected with the AIDS virus is the theme of the major summer exhibition “Our Positive Bodies: Mapping Our Treatment, Sharing Our Choices.”
Langlais is known for his vigorous explorations of the sculptural possibilities of wood, using found objects ranging from toothpicks to driftwood, and for the intimacy he established with the character of the medium, through both direct manipulation and an understanding of weathering and other random factors.
Born in Old Town in 1921, Langlais fused his Maine upbringing with ideas from the New York avant-garde to create bold abstract wood reliefs. Bates senior Erin Gilligan ’09 curated “Medium and Abstraction” to focus on a select group of Langlais’ works from the 1950s and ’60s and to introduce a broader context of influences, through the inclusion of such items as wooden assemblages by Louise Nevelson and portraits of Langlais by Alex Katz.
The works come to the Bates museum courtesy of Aucocisco Galleries of Portland.
The Hartley exhibition features ink and graphite drawings covering a wide range of subjects and a time span of several decades. Hartley was born in Lewiston, and during his lifetime expressed the hope that a memorial collection be established in his hometown.
In 1951, eight years after his death, the heirs of the Hartley estate left artworks and effects to Bates College, and a subsequent gift of 99 drawings was made to the college by Hartley’s niece, Norma Berger, in 1955. It is the largest collection of the artist’s work in this medium.
The 2009 exhibit showcases selections from the latter group of works. It is the largest collection of the artist’s work in this medium. Many served as studies for some of the artist’s most important paintings.
“Our Positive Bodies: Mapping Our Treatment, Sharing Our Choices,” originated in Nairobi, Kenya, in an effort to help HIV-positive women cope with the likelihood that they would die prematurely and leave their children behind. The exhibition focuses on “body mapping,” a process that uses the creation of life-size, silhouette self-portraits to express the feelings, memories, treatment and identities of those likely to die of AIDS.
These celebratory portraits are designed to encourage women affected by the disease to explore their options for maximizing their well-being and to better understand how the attitudes and behavior of others affects their ability to stay healthy.
The Langlais and Hartley exhibitions close on Oct. 3; “Our Positive Bodies” remains up until Dec. 11. Open to the public at no cost, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It is closed on major holidays. The museum is at 75 Russell St. For more information, call 786-6158 or visit the museum Web site.

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