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Nicole Duennebier is NEW/NOW

Remember the name, Nicole Duennebier.

Back in 1990, I published a book entitled Maine Art Now, a survey of contemporary art in Maine in the form of reviews, essays, and profiles. A decade later, in February of 2000, I wrote an article in Maine Times updating the book with profiles of nine artists who emerged in the 1990s, artists I would like to add to a second edition (if there ever were one), chief among them being Brett Bigbee, John Bisbee, Charlie Hewitt, Greg Parker, and Lucy White.

If I were to update Maine Art Now for the first decade of the 21st century, the list would likely be fewer than nine. It might possibly only be four or five – Grace DeGennaro, Lauren Fensterstock, Cassie Jones, Scott Peterman, and, yes, Nicole Duennebier.

Nicole Duennebier was born in Hartford, attended the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts (2000-2001), and graduated from Maine College of Art in 2005. Though she still shows at Aucocisco Gallery in Portland, she is now living in the Boston area and working at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Currently (through April 26), Duennebier’s fantastic paintings (and I use that adjective in both the sense of “extraordinarily good” and “conceived by an unrestrained imagination, grotesque, eccentric, odd”) are being featured at the New Britain Museum of American Art as part of its NEW/NOW series. The Amalgamates: Paintings by Nicole Duennebier presents a selection of the artist’s acrylic on panel paintings of phantasmagorical conjurings, exquisitely elegant yet hideously repulsive, like fungus or cells metastasizing right before your eyes.

“I am most compelled,” Duennebier writes in her exhibition statement, “by the form of objects that I am physically repelled by but intellectually attracted to.”

Drawing inspiration from parasitic fungi, Duennebier’s complex, organic images hang in the dark, Gothic space of the paintings like chandeliers of polyps, spores, and puss, glowing, growing, oozing, dripping. I am particularly fascinated by an untitled painting that depicts clusters of bloody red berries emanating, almost like fish roe, from what looks to be an explosion of white feathers.

“I think of the masses in my paintings as fruiting bodies, malignant growths that take on a lavish formation,” Duennebier writes. “They are not lying still but are very slowly expanding out across the terrain, usurping surrounding materials. These figures become garish amalgamations of color and texture.”

In her biomorphic imaginings, Nicole Duennebier participates in a contemporary aesthetic of the mutant that includes painters such as Inka Essenhigh, Sean Foley, and Tom Burckhardt. When seen from the perspective of posterity, I have a feeling the monstrous forms these artists create will be seen as symptomatic of a cancerous era, one in which the very organisms of life rebelled against human excesses and exploitations. To “amalgamate” is to unite, merge, coalesce. What Nicole Duennebier shows us is the entropic beauty of decadence coalescing.

New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington St., New Britain, CT, 860-229-0257.

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Updated Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

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