a piece from Aaron T. Stephan's 'To Borrow, Cut, Copy, and Steal'
From here, the strongest pull of the art season comes—surprise, surprise—from the Portland Museum of Art, where a mostly sculptural assembly of works by Aaron T. Stephan should throw a wrench at the syntax of institutional aesthetics. Titled “To Borrow, Cut, Copy, and Steal,” Stephan’s collection of wooden forms, intermedial curios, and gallery-space chicanery convey someone who asks far different questions than most visual artists. In many cases, Stephan’s work looks as though its desparately trying to escape an art-historical canon it was unwillingly born into. Deploying skilled craftsmanship, a dash of trompe l’oeil, and a trickster ethos like something out of folk mythology, the Portlander’s exhibit is one of the season’s must-sees. (Through February 2).
In another arena of signature Portland art is Eric Hou. The illustrator and, you might say, cartoonist, makes droll, slyly funny scenes of anthropomorphized koalas, raccoons, and giraffes up to all sorts of mischief. It reads far less twee than it sounds, and lately Hou’s work seems to be commenting almost directly on Portland life. See his work, titled “Michael: A Koala Vampire Love Story” (inspired by Michael Jackson’s Thriller) up at makers’ hub and vintage goods store Pinecone+Chickadee (through Oct 3).
Another solo show, the finely considered lines of Mainer James Chute get a feature setting at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell (through September 27). Influenced by the radical, 20th-century New York feminist artist Lee Lozano and her dialogue piece (in which Lozano would invite relative strangers to her studio for discussions), Chute has lately taken to making work out of real-time “conversations”—collaborative drawings; drawings done while keeping eye contact—with other Maine artists, usually women. See that project, called Blind Eye Contact Contour, as well as Apparent Contradictions, wherein an independent curator attempts to trace links and contradictions in Chute’s work itself.
Ever ambitious, the intrepid Maine artist Amy Stacey Curtis endeavors a new, elementally-themed installation in a Maine mill this fall. (She has tackled this every two years, adroitly, since 1998.) This one’s called, and considers, Matter, a show for which she needs 999 people to bring 3 cups of loose dirt from home during the its roughly three-week run. Curtis isn’t sharing how the dirt will be used, but if it’s like everything she’s done in the past, expect the viewer-participant boundary to shatter, and the simple, minimal experience to last possibly years. From October 4-24 at the Robinson Mill in Parsonsfield.
STARING AHEAD A painting from ‘The Wrong Kind of Bars,’ an exhibit of work by Maine artists in prison.
At MECA, one could spend hours tracing the history of the concept of fair use, which art design and research firm Project_ (Ana Miljacki and Lee Moreau). Both academics and professors of architecture, their work compellingly outlines not just built edifices but built ideas—“Fair Use: An Architectural Timeline,” seizes upon the concept over research printed on dozens of large, blocky cards, as though critical study were as simple as digging for records in a vinyl bin. Elsewhere, the colorful and evocative collection “The Wrong Kind of Bars” offers a glimpse inside the creative minds of Maine inmates, far more than what we’re able to glean from the goods in that furniture store up in Thomaston.