American Treasures: Other Voices

By: Carl Little

Farnsworth Art Museum • Rockland, ME • • Through February 2, 2014

Winslow Homer, Seven Boys in a Dory, 1873
Winslow Homer, Seven Boys in a Dory, 1873; watercolor on paper.
Farnsworth Art Museum, anonymous gift, 1999.

To mark its 65th anniversary, the Farnsworth Art Museum has launched American Treasures, a series of six exhibitions highlighting its permanent collection. The second installment, Other Voices, features 19 contemporary American works of art donated to the museum by Alex and Ada Katz and by the Alex Katz Foundation. Fittingly displayed in the museum’s Nevelson-Berliawsky Gallery, these paintings and sculptures represent a sampling of established artists, from Jennifer Bartlett to Hunt Slonem. The majority of the works date from roughly the past decade.

The collection ranges from a sparkling still life by Janet Fish, Fruit Juice Glasses, 2005, to Swiss Roll, 2008, a set of antlers replicated in cast urethane by Michael Joo. We can appreciate the homely, with Blue Round, 2011, a ceramic sculpture by Peter Schlesinger, and the trippy, as in David Salle’s vortex painting Hammerhead, 2004. In between, there is plenty to engage: Joanne Baldinger’s Porteresque interior Geodesic, 2005; Robert Berlind’s after the microburst Damaged Woods II, 1991; and Ellen Berkenblit’s MarsBar Avenue, 2007, with its cartoon figure.

Among the standouts is Francesco Clemente’s 2002 portrait of poet Robert Creeley. A friend to many artists, Creeley was a frequent subject (Katz’s own portrait of him is on view elsewhere at the Farnsworth). The poet had a mesmerizing visage, partly due to having lost an eye as a child. Clemente depicts him seated on a couch that resembles a mountain range.

Two earlier works in the show, John Grillo’s abstract expressionist After the Sunstorm, 1961, and Ellen Phelan’s minimalist Untitled (Cassel Earth), 1976, serve nicely as foundation pieces. Philip Pearlstein’s Model with Dreadlocks on Blue Blow-Up Chair, 2003, testifies to the holding power of this painter’s signature nudes.

Several of the artists have Maine connections (Fish attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1961; Slonem was born in Kittery at the southern end of the state). Otherwise, Other Voices is just that: a memorable selection of art “from away” that is here in Maine to stay.

—Carl Little

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