Read’s ‘Library’ on view

Final days of PMA Biennial

Dec 26, 2013
Pictured is a detail of Abbie Read’s “Library (and Other Endangered Species)” 2010-2012 mixed media installation of books and found objects.

Portland — The 2013 Portland Museum of Art Biennial: “Piece Work,” which opened in October, is up through Sunday, Jan. 5. A wall-length installation by Appleton artist Abbie Read is part of the eighth in an ongoing series of juried exhibitions showcasing new or recent work by living artists. The Biennial began in 1998 through a bequest by Midcoast artist William Thon and his wife, Helen, and has become a centerpiece of the PMA’s exhibition calendar for artists, audiences and arts professionals in the state of Maine and beyond.

The current Biennial is the first to have a subtitle, and it features more than 70 works, ranging in media from painting and drawing to photography and video. The selection of the artwork followed a new jury process, conducted internally by Jessica May, PMA’s inaugural Curator of Contemporary and Modern Art. The goal of the exhibition is to explore one very strong, deep thread of contemporary practice that has relevance both regionally and nationally. Many of the artists in “Piece Work” live in Maine for all or part of the year; for others, the state has been an important part of their biography or artistic practice.

The subtitle “Piece Work” is derived from the exhibition’s thematic approach. It is meant to evoke the traditional labor-based notion of artisans and factory workers who are paid “by the piece” and also conjure the image in visitors’ minds of “one thing after another,” a seemingly endless repetition of making, passing and making again.

Read is among the 28 artists selected from nearly 900 entries. Her “Library (and Other Endangered Species)” installation made the Midcoast rounds before heading to Portland, installed at Belfast’s Åarhus Gallery, the Mildred Stevens Williams Memorial Library in her home town and in the Sanctuary Gallery of Rockland Congregational Church. "Library" takes two years worth of individually crafted pieces, many in book form, and puts them to use as components in a large relief collage. While the approach to crafting the individual parts is formal, presenting mostly mundane found objects as treasures, the overall impact of the diverse collection as a composition imparts a more personal meaning.

The artist asked friends and family to participate in this piece by relating to her stories of a time or an incident when they felt particularly lucky. This idea grew out of her personal cathartic search to identify and explain the unexplainable.

The result is an 18-by-7.5-foot mixed media construction made up of individual handcrafted artist books, altered books, shadowboxes and found objects. Inspired by the future prospect of books as physical objects becoming less and less pertinent in our culture, “Library” is intended to conjure in the viewer's mind memories of meaningful objects, images, moments and associations with books that are part of a collective cultural memory of reading and research as well as books as cherished objects to collect.

Read has taught painting, drawing, printmaking, 2-D and 3-D design; and currently teaches workshops on artist books, bookbinding, altered books and art journaling.

"My medium is a collection of painted paper, paint, binder's board, scavenged paper and books, discarded books and found objects. I construct what is essential to a book: two covers, binding, content. I then invent a     conversation between covers and within the overall construction. Metaphors of collecting, memory and cultural references come into play," Read said of the installation when it showed locally.

Read attended Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in art history and studio art. After a seven-year stint teaching painting, drawing and printmaking at Concord Academy in Massachusetts, she and her husband Bart moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., where she completed a MFA in Mixed Media at the University of Michigan School of Art. Abbie and Bart Read have lived in Appleton since 1998, and she maintains a studio on Appleton Ridge.

This year, the Biennial extends beyond the museum’s main exhibition gallery to envelop the entire campus. Multiple works are installed in the McLellan House, interacting with the historic architecture. The PMA’s corridors and sculpture garden also are incorporated. For information about hours and admission (free Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m.), visit portlandmuseum.org. The museum is located downtown at 7 Congress Square.

Artist Abbie Read is pictured at left in front of "Library" as it was installed in 2012 at Rockland Congregational Church.
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Dagney C. Ernest
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
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Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for almost 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.

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