The 2015 Portland Museum Of Art Biennial
by Jamie Thompson
You can’t get there from here. This timeworn Maine saying has become a kind of cultural touchstone for the state, like blueberries or lobster. But Alison Ferris, curator of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, found a decidedly more artistic application for the adage. Ferris, who curated “You Can’t Get There From Here: The 2015 Portland Museum of Art Biennial,” was inspired by how the saying seems to sum up the indirect, challenging and at times frustrating creative process. Visual artists often follow winding routes to go from inspiration to final product, guided by a combination of creativity and craft.
The 32 artists in this year’s Biennial the museum’s ninth represent established and emerging talent in contemporary art with strong connections to Maine. This is the first year that the museum has conducted the Biennial purely through invitation. The result is a comprehensive exhibition that is also focused. There is a wide range of styles and techniques on display, but all relate to Ferris’ initial inspiration; these artists demonstrate the importance of the creative process, however circuitous it may be.
Upon entering the exhibition, viewers are met with the intense gaze of Josie, the subject of Brett Bigbee’s painting, “Josie Over Time.” Her direct stare is startlingly life-like, as are her porcelain skin and plump lips. A dark, moody sky and rough sea stand in contrast to Josie’s luminescence. Bigbee’s mysterious piece sets the tone for the exhibition, piquing viewers’ curiosity about the disparate works on display.
They’re also greeted by variety of baskets made by Native American artists who demonstrate the perfect blend of process and panache. Jeremy Frey, a Wabanaki artist, is especially noted for his combination of tradition and innovation. He makes his own wooden forms to achieve contemporary shapes for his baskets, which are woven from time-honored materials. His 2013 “Basket” has an exquisite urn shape, with an asymmetrical collar around the top. The contrasting dark and light tones add to the piece’s striking modernity.