PORTLAND — One of the key concepts of the purpose of art is to stimulate new ways of looking at things. On a scale from zero to 10, (10 being excellent), this show hits 11. Thirty contemporary Maine artists were selected from nearly 900 applicants for this unique and mind-boggling show that is the biennial exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art. 

The process of creating art is the focus of the exhibit. The catalogue states, “The title, “Piece Work” plays off the manufacturing concept of “piecework assembly,” the relentless process of making, building and configuring materials.

Piece work in the past has been associated with quilting and fabric design. However, this show expands that concept into including a wide variety of media that involves minute detail, repetitio  and building a whole from its parts. Media selected for this exhibit include: tin and metal, ink  on paper, oil on canvas, gelatin silver print, plastic beads and gel medium on wood, cross stitch embroidery, crochet, inkjet print, graphite, ink, watercolor, collage on rice paper, books, found objects, and Eps foam inserts (styrofoam carved objects) with electrical components.

The most exciting work in the exhibit is titled “Star Gazer” by Jason Rogenes of Georgetown Island. It is made from carved shapes of styrofoam which extend across a huge wall at the end of the first floor, beyond the gift shop, in interesting geometric shapes in three dimension with special lighting from behind the work at intervals. Photos do not do it justice. You have to see it in real life to get the nuances of the piece. It certainly is a “piece-work” in sculpture using a unique medium, Styrofoam. In fact its forms are as exciting as any large Louise Nevelson work and not derivative. “Stargazer” is an original wall sculpture that blows your mind and lifts you into another world.

Another unique work by Jason Rogenes is experimental and found in the old section of the museum in the mansion, in the PMA Family Space Room made possible by the Peggy L. Osher Endowment for Education. A large table in the center of a room has white block geometric images on it that look like an imaginary design for a city. The public is invited to move the images around and interact with the work. Similar in style to other Rogenes works, it is created for the purpose of public interaction. I was there one day when a gifted junior high school student from The Friends School on Mackworth Island rearranged part of the work on the table using mathematically precise thought from her studies in geometry. As she poured over the images on the table she mentioned she hoped to be an architect someday. What an exciting work that encourages interaction, appeals to all ages and stimulates creative thought.

Another unique work in the Biennial exhibit this year can be found in the old section of the museum in the living room of the McClellan House. It is titled, “Spheric 2: Bell Cloud.” Mechanical bells hang all over the ceiling of the room, and are united with a computer that has a low-frequency receiver. Changes in the atmosphere cause the different bells to ring at different times. An eerie experience of awe is created by the two artists who courageously designed this work; Zach Poff and N. B. Aldrich.

Another unusual part of this exhibit is that works are spread out in different galleries all over the museum and are not limited to one area. Be sure to see everything.

Several works which are outstanding found in the front galleries on the first floor of the PMA include: ”Iceland/Makena Beach II” a photo collage by Aaron Williams of Queens, New York, a former student of the Maine College of Art, ”Baltic Variation in Plastic Beads,”a work made from plastic beads and gel medium on wood by Julie Gray of Saco, and “Library,” a work made from books and found objects by Abbie Read of Appleton.

The work “Dually Noted,” an inkjet-print wallpaper design covering the entire front entrance area of the exhibit, created by Adriane Herman of Portland and Brian Reeves of South Portland, sets the tone of the exhibit and reflects our 21st- century lifestyle and culture with a dash of humor and repetition. “Post it” notes can be seen across the wall sorted by color and shape in repeated patterns and reminds us all how many times we use “post-its” in our busy lives every day.The artists created an art form out of everyday objects, a concept found in much of the art in the exhibit.

There are so many exciting works in this exhibit it is hard to mention them all. Other interesting works include: “Winter Stealing the Sun,” an oil on canvas by Matt Blackwell of Brooklyn, N.Y.,who studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, ”Star Field,” an inkjet print, by Caleb Charland, of Bangor,  ”Simon in the Grass” an inkjet print by Jocelyn Lee of Brooklyn, N.Y.,  and Cape Elizabeth, ”Standard” an acrylic on canvas and wood by Duane Paluska of Woolwich and a dreamlike work that looks like an xray of the creative process searching in someone’s mind titled, “Emerging Cartographies 6” ink, wash, graphite and collage on paper by Alison Hildreth of Falmouth.

The selection process for the Biennial was new this year. The jury process is conducted by one person, Jessica May, the PMA’s first Curator of Contemporary and Modern Art, instead of having a panel of guest curators from out of state. Many of the artists live in Maine or have some tie with Maine.

It is a very sophisticated show because it involves so many different types of media and it is hung throughout the museum including outside in the sculpture court. A work not to be missed outside is titled, “Box City,” made from wooden wine boxes and acrylic paint, by Rahul Mitra of Huston, Texas, who earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Maine Orono. The work looks like a wooden kaleidoscope of geometric shapes and colors mathematically juxtaposed and balanced in interesting patterns.

In summary this exhibit is so large and complex that it merits many visits to explore. It runs through Jan. 5, and is worth coming into Portland to to see. You can’t absorb it all in one visit. Like all exciting art, it makes you think in different ways and challenges the accepted way of seeing things.

A talk on the Biennial exhibit by curator, Jessica May, will take place at noon on on Nov. 22,  in the center of the museum in the Great Hall. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays. Closed Mondays. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students with I.D., $6 for youth ages 13 to 17. Children 12 and under are free. Admission is free Friday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“Stargazer,” by Jason Rogenes, 2013. Rogenes’s piece work piece is made from expanded polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) inserts and electrical components. It is 96 by 144 inches. 

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