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Art as Invention and Play

Art as Invention and Play
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Last week, in reporting on the Boston Art Awards, I noted that “When the market is bad and the money is gone, the pressure is off and artists can make art for all the right reasons – to discover what’s meaningful to them, to express what it means to be human.” I can think of no better recent examples of artmaking as invention and play (as opposed to creating commodities for sale) than a pair of distantly related exhibitions in Brunswick, Maine, and New York City.

The Coleman Burke Gallery is an alternative space in Fort Andross, the former Cabot Mill in Brunswick that focuses on site-specific installations. Subsidized by mill owner Coleman Burke and programmed by sculptor John Bisbee and painter Mark Wethli of the Bowdoin College faculty, the gallery is a beautiful old industrial space in a former mill building now home to offices and artists’ studios. Currently (through March 31), Coleman Burke is featuring Lost & Found: Anna Isaak and the Cabot Mill, an invented narrative by artist Randy Regier, an adjunct faculty member at both Bowdoin and Maine College of Art.

“My studio practice,” writes Regier, whose previous projects include creating a fictional toy company, “is the construction of both fictional narratives and their related material artifacts that rise from my knowledge and experiences of growing up in the 20th century in the United States.”

Randy Regier spent 15 years painting auto bodies in Salem, Oregon, before he made the decision to become an artist, so the racecar conceit of his Anna Isaak conceptual installation flows from his own experience. The centerpiece of the installation is a mock-up of a World War II era dirt track racer. In Regier’s narrative, Anna Isaak was a welder at the South Portland shipyard where Liberty Ships were made and came to work at the Cabot Mill. In the mill, she secretly built her dream car, which was “lost” until Regier “found” it in a room where it had been hidden for 60 years.

Post-modern art is not so much about the creation of objects as it is about the creation of imaginative enterprises, alternative realities that parallel the everyday. Randy Regier’s Lost & Found, then, might best be understood as an historical novel in the form of artifacts.

Businessman Coleman Burke also owns a building in Manhattan where he has invited the dynamic duo of Bisbee and Wethli to mount exhibitions in empty spaces. The inaugural show at what they have named Redflagg is the first solo exhibition in New York by Cassie Jones, a 2001 Bowdoin graduate who received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2008.

Cassie Jones’s Redflagg exhibition (February 12 to March 28) features two bodies of work – framed paintings on paper and upholstered paintings on panel. Both groupings are emblematic abstractions that explore hybrid forms. Jones has developed a very distinctive personal aesthetic that uses bold, flat colors on forms that seem derived from both science and the decorative arts. It’s always difficult to say how or why an artist seems to be very much of her times, but the retro elegance and ironic playfulness of Cassie Jones’s art is pure 21st century.

All things old are new again. Jones possesses both the talent and the ambition to go a long way as an artist. Taken together, the Regier and Jones shows are perfect examples of how artists from the far provinces of the cultural world can find venues and outlets to participate in the mainstream dialogue of contemporary art.

Coleman Burke Gallery, Fort Andross, 14 Maine St., Brunswick ME, 207-725-3761. Redflagg, 638 West 28th St., New York NY.

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