Art in Maine today

By Rufus Foshee | Jul 28, 2010
Courtesy of: Center for Maine Contemporary Art Cassie Jones, "All Together Now" (2010), acrylic on Duralar, 17 by 14 inches, each piece.

The last public forum concerned with art in Maine took place nearly a decade ago. It was not able to answer its own question: What is Maine art? No one should have been surprised, since there is no such thing as Maine art or Mid Atlantic art.

All the same, two of the most advanced artists working anywhere today are Brian White in Union and Kendra Ferguson in Castine who, I understand, is in the process of moving to Boston.

Having taken a close look at the current biennial at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport, it seems to me that the development of contemporary art in Maine is not in a healthy state. I remember visiting an exhibition at the Old Whitney Museum on West 54 St. in New York with Louise Nevelson and she stopped in front of a painting and said, "Wouldn't you like to just dash a bucket of paint on that." Her point was well made. She meant that something would have happened. Looking at the works in the biennial at CMCA makes me think that if Nevelson were there she might want to dash a little paint.

On opening night of the biennial, one of Maine's senior artists said, "... this is replay."

CMCA former Curator Bruce Brown had this to say: "For the first time, CMCA sent jurors disks of more than 2,500 individual works of art, arranged by categories, to preview. Each juror spent up to eight hours reviewing all submissions and forwarded lists of artists whose work each wished to share in committee at the Maine College of Art on Feb. 23. Acceptance into the exhibition required unanimous agreement among all three -- never an easy task for any jury. Consequently, in accordance with occasional past practice, the jurors were invited to include the work of one artist whose work they alone found especially compelling. In the end, the 2010 jurors devoted more time in selecting the work than any previous jury I have been privileged to work with in more than 20 years. In selecting work that speaks both to Maine's artistic tradition as well as artists' connections to current artistic trends, not only did they agree to preview all works before convening for a full day, they were willing to further refine the final selections by 41 artists by e-mail and phone conversations after adjourning on Feb. 23. Their commitment to the task at hand was exemplary."

Has this judging process become too inbred, always a danger no matter the geographical location? Who are the jurors? Who chooses them? Are they different every year?

If after such a complex manner of choosing works for this biennial, this is the best work, what does this lead one to believe about the status of art in Maine? It is stagnant.

Assuming that I am correct in my analysis, what might be on the horizon that might ignite something exciting?

There are some precedents. You start over with something radical, as did the impressionists in Europe in the late 19th century and into the 20th. Pop art in America said, "... we have had enough. Here is something to consider."

What artist or group of artists may spring forth in Maine with work that declares: "We have had it, here is something exciting for you, like it or leave it."

What Midcoast Maine portends, it is not able to deliver: A vital community of creative artists creating original work being shown to the public for the enjoyment of all and from which developing collectors may choose works.

I have long ceased to keep track of the endless art classes at the Farnsworth Art Museum. It is time to ask: What is being taught and by whom? What is the qualification for a person to teach art classes at the Farnsworth or at any public institution?

It is time to also ask: What are the expectations of the general public, if any?

Rufus Foshee lives in Camden.

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