What I Saw at Portland First Friday, February Edition

1) Dorothy Schwartz at the Maine Jewish Museum, which I mentioned in my last post. A printmaker who studied under Leonard Baskin at Smith College (my alma mater), Deedee, as she’s known to most, uses a variety of printmaking techniques but is known best for her woodcuts. Though mostly work made since 2000, the show included a print and its woodblock from her college days, distinctly displaying the influence of her mentor. The most prominent series reused the same set of 4 smaller and 3 larger woodblocks, recombined in different iterations. The artist told us these were blown up details from a Baskin print (his last woodcut, I believe), and that she produced them for a memorial show just after his death. This is not to say this is exclusively what her work is. She uses a variety of other, sometimes experimental/multimedia/collage techniques. Another series I liked were prints that paid homage to self-portraits by historic women artists.

Deedee Schwartz










2) At the Rose Contemporary, “This Flat Earth,” a series of drawings and prints by both Maine and Madrid artists – the exhibition showed there before it showed here. Some pieces were charming, clever, and well made. Others looked a little dinky – especially as they weren’t framed.

3) At the Maine College of Art (MECA), several student installations. Of note was a little group show called The Other Side of Shade, “an interpretation and reflection of the issues of race, oppression, and power in America.” The work in this show had some interest, but it seemed like it could have been conceptually stronger. There has been much art and art theory made on this topic in the last 30 years; it’s as if the artists hadn’t really studied that history, as if they were the first to treat the topic. For example, one installation using painted Mammy figurines recalled Fred Wilson, but was not as conceptually rigorous. Had they looked to their precedents, the work could have been better developed and more thought-provoking.

4) At June Fiztpatrick, some MECA staff art – nice, but not much of note. My favorite was an artist who incorporated nails and ball bearings into small panels using layers of encaustic as an ethereal binder.

5) At Space Gallery, two things:

Screen shot 2013-02-09 at 1.29.11 PM

A) Mike Kolster: itiswhatitis. Mike is a photo professor at Bowdoin and a close colleague; he’s been kind enough to host me for two studio visits, including one demonstrating his process. He uses a 19th-century wet-plate process called ambrotype, which produces a glass plate negative that, when put against a black background, reveals the positive image. In summers he turns his camera to landscape, but his winter work is more conceptual. This show consisted of two series interspersed with each other: one, images of plastic ribbon superimposed on each other; the other, colloquial sayings whose words have been broken up to make them appear abstract at first:
The phrases themselves are more sophisticated equivalents of er’s, um’s, and like’s–space fillers that don’t really mean anything at all. With the ribbons- the yellow things that come wrapped around boxes of paper – both seem to be examples of everyday detritus, the leftovers that sprinkle, and ultimately make up, our entire lives.

B) The best idea for an art fundraiser I’ve ever seen, and one I’d ultimately like to reuse if I had the chance:


Watching the artists at work, and comparing it to what they’d already produced, was great fun. I was of course also excited about the prospect of taking home an original piece of art for such a price; but money is a funny thing. Even though it was so cheap and there were things I liked, I couldn’t bring myself to part with the dough (I’m not that flush, you see) for anything I wasn’t completely in love with. Oh well.

6) At the Meg Perry Center for Peace and Justice, “Sensory Circus,” focusing on art that you could touch, hear, smell and taste, in addition to see. Cool idea; the works themselves were a bit sloppily executed. The small room was packed, which made maneuvering and experiencing the art difficult. In addition, it wasn’t really my scene. To be blunt about it, the place was full of hippies.


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