Greenhut Galleries’ “Portland Show” has set a standard for biennials in Maine, offering a consistently excellent show. It has never been a perfect show, and I don’t like every work this year, but each selected artist is worthy of consideration.
Even the piece that appeals to me least, Chris Eaton’s “5th Day Slow Rider,” is impressive. It features a scene in cut paper and pencil drawing of onlookers and people on bikes. The craft and draftsmanship are excellent and the work clearly achieves its wild-and-crazy celebratory intent. It’s dazzling and hysterical. It’s just too jangly for me.
In numbers, this is a big show. Try to parse every piece, and this “Portland Show” becomes huge. Usually, curatorial themes facilitate our looking: We (lazily) check off how a piece is connected to the theme and then feel we understand it. But Greenhut’s show sets up the artists, chosen well in advance, to make or select a piece for the show. So rather than safe and simple selection by the gallery, the artists are empowered to be their own curators. This doesn’t always complicate the content, but enough of the artists seek to challenge the gallery and each other to make for a particularly rich viewing experience.
The work ranges greatly in style, content and approach. Ben Coombs’ handsome blown glass lobster buoys greet you at the door and beyond them is Crystal Cawley’s Mad Hatter’s hat made of map scraps. Alice Spencer’s quilt paintings take an unexpected close look at historic, local quilts. Eaton’s eye-popping bicyclists pull your eye to a farther gallery. And Daniel Anselmi’s unapologetically abstract collages clearly seek internal elegance instead of someone else’s story – a theme we could also ascribe to the works of Henry Wolyniec and Sandra Quinn among others. Maybe they aren’t team players, but choosing to do their own thing works for all of these artists.