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Grand Illusions at University of Maine Museum of Art

Grand Illusions at University of Maine Museum of Art
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   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.”

Novela by Michael DeBrito

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 by Michael DeBrito

  “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.


Majestic by Lori Nix

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.

Violion Repair Shop by Lori Nix

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.]

Edgar Allen Beem


Edgar Allen Beem


Take a look at art in New England with Edgar Allen Beem. He’s been art critic for the Portland Independent, art critic and feature writer for Maine Times, and now is a freelance writer for Yankee, Down East, Boston Globe Magazine, The Forecaster, and Photo District News. He’s the author of Maine Art Now (1990) and Maine: The Spirit of America (2000). In 1988, he won the Manufacturers Hanover Art/World Award for Distinguished Newspaper Art Criticism for his coverage of the 1987 auction sale of Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises. Ed says, “My credo as an arts writer has long been: ‘The work of art is the search for meaning.’ I believe art is not only a form of personal expression but also a form of inquiry, every bit as much a quest for truth as scientific research.” Ed Beem’s newest book, Backyard Maine: Local Essays, has just been published by Tilbury House, Publishers, of Gardiner, Maine. It’s not about the meaning of art; it’s about the meaning of family, community, and life in general. Edgar Beem is currently at work on a new book about contemporary art in Maine to be published in the fall of 2012.
Updated Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

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One Response to Grand Illusions at University of Maine Museum of Art

  1. Chris March 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Was this show reviewed without seeing it in person? So many details left out.

    Another perspective of Michael De Brito’s work (it’s from 2008 but you are left with a better understanding of the artist)

    Also, Windham and Terry are not married.

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