Review of CMCA 2012 Biennial in Artscope Magazine

CMCA Biennial Exhibition 2012

Center for Maine Contemporary Art
162 Russell Avenue
Rockport, Maine
Through December 7, 2012

Review by Suzanne Volmer
November/December 2012 issue of Artscope magazine

In the process of reimagining the concept of a biennial for the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, its director and curator, Suzette McAvoy, decided to deviate from the institution’s tradition of a broad survey approach, opting instead to co-curate, with Daphne Anderson Deeds of Connecticut, a short list of 17 artists for this season’s exhibition.

Re-tooling is nearly second nature for McAvoy, who has in recent years revamped the center’s interior gallery space and led CMCA away from financial crisis into solvency. Here she brings invigorating freshness to the previous paradigm used by CMCA, taking a “less is more” approach (with Deeds) to configure this event into an invitational/juried exhibition, focusing content to showcase artistic directions currently shaping Maine’s contemporary creative identity.

With ten juried artists and seven invited artists in this biennial, the director/curator explains that she wanted to “transcend regional boundaries and represent a wide range of media and viewpoints” – creating a snapshot of the sophistication and approachability of Maine’s talent base.

CMCA is Maine’s most long-lived non-profit institution devoted exclusively to the presentation of contemporary art. As such, it serves a unique role for local and visiting audiences as a clearinghouse to disseminate information about artists in the region. It is also an important nexus for them as it fosters community through serving as a platform and public liaison. Its mission statement and clarion call is succinctly: “Advance contemporary art in Maine.”

McAvoy met co-curator Daphne Anderson Deeds in Camden at an exhibition of Outsider Art that Anderson Deeds curated. Impressed by that show and making note of the potential common ground, it was this introduction that eventually led McAvoy to make the decision to join forces for this 2012 survey -- their biennial statement is on view through December 2. The curators have approached their job in tandem, selecting artists, making studio visits and installing this clearly communicated, ambitious show. As colleagues they kept a tight reign on decision making from the start. The two have developed a show of insight with uniquely interesting artworks pointedly connected to ideas in art making relevant beyond Maine’s borders.

“The vision for this year’s Biennial was to present a balance of concepts, volume, color, and texture for the exhibition as a whole,” reads part of the curatorial statement. That objective establishes a flow between artworks that touch upon conceptual influences from the 1960s, ‘70s and 80s, which artists have tilted and positioned into new contexts with updated dialogues to be pertinent in 2012. The artists involved share an affinity for carefully executed craftsmanship, the hallmark of their endeavors, which at times seems dear but in most instances allows conceptual dimensions to soar. Across the board a meticulous attention to detail grounds artistic process, which in this case reaches to include all matter of media from drawing, painting, photography and sculpture to mechanical art and video forms.

Tom Butler, Luc Demers, Lauren Fensterstock, Cassie Jones, Lisa Kellner, David Stess, and Kitty Wales are the invited artists that were selected to establish the bones of this 2012 Biennial. Works by Kenny Cole, Grace DeGennaro, Lynda Litchfield, Robin Mandel, James Marshall, Jonathan Mess, Benjamin Potter, Kate Russo, Aaron Stephan, and Erik Weisenburger were juried in to add dimension.

The work of the seven invited artists creates the conceptual underpinning for this survey. Among them Cassie Jones brings global influences to bear, combining felt and paint in colorful organic graphic interplay. Her pieces reference tribal fabrics plucked from the world today (a nod to late '70s pattern art).

Grace DeGennaro is among the selected artist group and her paintings depict kaleidoscopic form that one might imagine seeing in an illustrated biology text. Her lace-like shapes are precise while delving into things spiritual.

Refined technique is a key component of all the artwork in this show, and McAvoy mentions these artists share a sense of creative “obsession” -- a feeling permeating this show.

Kenny Cole, a juried artist, makes elaborate two-sided paintings, a physical approach he’s resurrected from a 1980s time bracket in his career. Here he utilizes an interactive dual picture plane system of his invention, which is part of the painting itself. It enables audiences to view his complex narratives both front and back. Included is a work from his series “As High As Heaven.” His painting “Mission Module” leans against the wall like a totemic, hieroglyphic matchstick, twelve feet tall and two feet wide.

Conceptually Cole connects with comic book art, translating today’s world dynamic into a grassroots Orwellian area of science-fiction exploration. The artist’s activist stance leads him into the territory of painting as public outcry, in this case against global militarism. Cole is one of the most original voices in political art today and his inclusion in this show seems particularly apropos in an election year.

An interesting discussion series called, “Who Do You Love?” accompanies this Biennial as an extra bonus, in which a sampling of included artiss are asked to talk about other artists they most admire or believe influence them creatively. It is a forum of conversation that expands both how audiences come to understand this Biennial and/or a particular artist’s work. For details visit cmcanow.org.