Grand Illusions at University of Maine Museum of Art
In 2002, the University of Maine Museum of Art, which had resided on the campus of the state’s flagship state university in Orono, moved off campus and into Norumbega Hall, a former dance hall, bowling alley, and Sears store on the Kenduskeag Stream canal in the heart of downtown Bangor.
“If we were on campus I firmly believe we would not get the participation of the general public,” says George Kinghorn, who took over the museum director’s position from Mason in 2007.
UMMA now holds 3,500 objects and oversees another 3,500 on the Orono campus. Maintaining a busy schedule of sixteen shows a year, four shows every three months, the university museum has seen attendance climb steadily from 4,000 in 2007 to close to 13,000 in 2010.
Focused primarily on modern and contemporary art, UMMA seeks to, in Kinghorn’s words, “put significant Maine artists in the context of other contemporary artists.”
UMMA’s current quartet of exhibitions, however, is rare in Maine specifically because neither the four artists nor their work has anything to do with Maine. The shows, which might be thought of as four kinds of artistic illusion, bring artists from New York and New Jersey to central Maine for the winter (January 13 to March 24)
The Moment: Paintings by Michael DeBrito features a young New Jersey artist who paints in the figurative tradition, his subject matter drawn largely from his large family and his Portuguese heritage.
“Novela” is a portrait of the artist’s grandmother sitting at the kitchen table eating and regarding her grandson, and by extension the view, with undisguised disapproval, as though to say, “Can’t you see I’m eating?”
“Men on Faro Beach” portrays a trio of Portuguese men preparing a picnic beneath a tarp. Food, family, tradition – perfect subjects for a conservative realist.
In The City, New York-based photographer Lori Nix provides excellent examples of the constructed pictures that have been one of the pervasive photo-art trends for the past decade or so. Nix builds dioramas of such things as an abandoned theatre, a violin repair shop, a beauty shop, and a vacuum cleaner showroom and then photographs them with an 8 x 10 view camera, creating an illusion of an illusion.
Nix belongs to that school of fine art photography where everything is built before the lens rather than behind it. Among the better known of these illusionists are James Casebere, Gregory Crewdson, and, my favorite, the German artist Thomas Demand who builds entire environments of paper and then photographs them.
The other two artists in the wintry foursome are husband and wife George Terry and Brett Day Windham of Brooklyn. Terry contributes conceptual sculpture such as horse heads with human legs and a conceptual photograph of himself burdened by his own possessions. Windham has created an installation which consists of a circus tent inside which a video is playing.
“In Sleepwalking Circus,” the artist explains, “a stop-motion video plays on a loop inside the handmade carnival tent. It consists of over a thousand long-exposure images of me working in my studio at night. In it, I build a stage for my sculptures, which are treated as both props and actors –and sometimes move about on their own. I continue the banal, exhausting work without noticing them, and proceed to dismantle the stage and leave the studio.”
The DeBrito paintings will satisfy the conventional preference for old-fashion painting. The Nix photographs and the Terry and Windham pieces will appeal to those with more post-modern tastes.
[University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., Bangor ME, 207-561-3350.]