PMA Biennial exhibit
‘visually exciting’ and
‘highly recommended’

PORTLAND — An incredible feast for the eyes greets you as you walk into the 2015 Portland Museum of Art Biennial exhibit titled, “You Can’t Get There From Here.” Visually exciting, it rendered me speechless for a minute.

On view to the public are over 100 works by 32 artists who have meaningful connections to Maine. Artworks combine a wide variety of different media which include: exciting modern sculpture, traditional handwoven baskets in modern patterns, paintings, ink jet prints, pewter ware, pastels on painted paper, ink and charcoal drawings, oil on linen, and many forms of photography. This year’s PMA Biennial crosses boundaries between fine art and crafts and unites fresh creativity from both.

One can’t miss the beautiful handwoven works by Jeremy Frey, a Passmaquoddy basket weaver from Maine. His “Urchin Baskets,” made from brown ash, sweetgrass and dyes are breathtaking, in modern designs from a traditional medium. These beautiful handwoven pieces raise what has always been thought of as a “craft” into a fine-art form because of their exquisite beauty. Actually the whole show unites crafts and fine art.

John Bigbee’s modern sculpture titled “Hearsay,” is made from iron spikes, twisted in flat patterns that look like the inside of the the part of an old phonograph player where the sound emerges. 

 Both the image itself and the shade it creates are fascinating.

Another creation that focuses on sound from a visual perspective is “Reveile” by Anna Hepler. This work looks like a huge, sheer trumpet woven in fine steel on a grid and hanging from the ceiling and walls, creating an illusion of an umbrella with the open side of the trumpet hanging in space. It is a masterpiece of originality in design. Its execution in being hung in space is unique.

Michael Kolster’s work in photography is unusual and mystical. His photographs are created as ambrotypes, an antique — and difficult–  process that produces photographcs on glass. Ambrotypes were made by photographers, most of whom remain unknown, from the late 1850s to the mid-1860s, when the process was replaced by the tintype. 

Kolster’s work is hung in the narrow gallery inside the the central part of the exhibit, giving it a special private space in which the public can focus on quietly.

Brett Bigbee’s portrait titled “Josie Over Time,” an oil on linen, portrays a face of stark innocence, which almost appears to be in a mystical trance. It is clearly an unusual portrait, a kind of visual poem of innocence. The piece is  hung in the first gallery and is a traditional statement among the fairly abstract sculptures by Richard Van Burren, whose pieces are created in clear-casting polyester resin with mixed media. Van Burren’s sculptures have the appearance of blown glass, with interesting objects embedded in them.

Objects in the exhibit are created to encourage the public to think in new ways about art and its meaning.

An installation piece by Owen F. Smith, titled “Dreaming of Possibilities,” is unique because it asks the public to participate. Mats are placed on the floor; over the mats video screens are suspended from the ceiling showing different views of moving clouds in the sky. In order to see the images, one must lie on his or her back on a mat — in essence participating in the work. 

Ken Greenleaf’s work, an acrylic on canvas in abstract geometric forms, titled “Chelsea Bridge,” is great. It has sharp, clean lines with bright yellow, blue, white, and black opaque colors. The strong design conveys an image without frills. Its use of color creates an upbeat atmosphere.

Noriko Sakanishi’s work “Where Red Resides,” unites geometric blocks in subtle colors of gray, black and wine, with a three-dimensional aspect. Her work gives off a feeling of calm — where serious thought, equal space and order appear to be important — and gives an effect of solitude to the exhibit.

The work in this exhibit is exciting and challenges us to think: What is the purpose of art in our lives? Do we need color, intricate designs, geometric creations, calming atmosphere, mythology, woven images, dramatic forms in action? Or perhaps, even, humor,  as seen in the work titled “When we Land,” by Emilie Stark Menneg, of Brunswick, which depicts artifacts of a shipwreck with TV in the center that was humorous, but not my favorite work.

All the images in the exhibit were a surprise and caused a sense of wonder and that is the criteria of a visually exciting show. I recommend it highly.

The exhibit was curated by Alison Ferris. She lives in Maine, but she is currently the curator of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisc. For 12 years Ferris was curator of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and has worked as assistant director of the Maine Arts Commission.

The Portland Museum of art invited Ferris to curate its 9th Biennial because they felt she was knowledgeable about the state and its contemporary artists.

A small, but very interesting and attractive catalogue of the exhibit, is available at the museum.

The exhibit is up through Jan. 3, 2016. For more information call 207-775-6148. 

Museum hours are: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday. The museum is closed on Monday. Third Thursday in month the museum is open 10.a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $12. for adults, $10 for seniors and students with I.D.$6 for youth ages 13-17 and children under 12 free. Admission is free Friday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Also to enjoy
Friday, Nov. 6, noon, curator talk Alison Ferris
Saturday, Nov. 7,  10 a.m. to 3 Family Day 
Saturday, Nov. 14, Woven traditions: basket making in Maine, lectures by artists Theresa Secord, 11 a.m. and Jeremy Frey,  1-3 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 19, 5:30 p.m., artist intervention by Stacey Howe


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