A new slant on the ordinary at University of Maine Museum of Art

Posted Oct. 07, 2009, at 6:42 p.m.

Wendy Wischer and Dave Anderson are fascinated by things of which others might not take note. The stalk of grass growing mightily in the cracks of a sidewalk. The scarecrow stuck in a field on a back road in the middle of nowhere.

Although the way they express that fascination is vastly different, their new exhibits at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor seem somehow to complement each other.

“Evergreen: Installation by Wendy Wischer” and “Roadside Ghosts: Photographs by Dave Anderson” both went on view last week at the museum’s Harlow Street location, along with the group show “Abstract New England: Six Perspectives.”

For her part, Wischer created an installation of dozens of leaves — made of epoxy clay underneath a metal structure — and covered them in a total of about 35,000 Swarovski crystals. The leaves are implanted in the wall of the museum’s Zillman Gallery.

It’s as if the room has sprouted — as if the nature that exists outside can’t be contained from finding ways to infiltrate our world. The idea behind the art, the Miami-based Wischer said as she stood in the gallery, came from the almost admiration she feels when she sees weeds pushing through highway overpasses or other places they’re not supposed to be able to thrive.

“I see these weeds growing in the cracks and I find them to be incredibly beautiful, especially living in a very urban area as opposed to Maine,” said Wischer, who is also a photographer and video artist who spent time last week filming Acadia National Park for a project she’s doing. “If people can see these and think they’re beautiful, maybe they’ll see the crack in the ground and then see something beautiful in that. It’s like using art to have people look at their own surroundings in a new way.”

So why cover the leaves in crystals? Wischer said the crystals are a way for an artist to play with light and reflection, and indeed the leaves sparkle when the viewer walks into the room, thanks to Wischer’s installation. There’s also a deeper meaning of covering nature in crystals, something purported to have healing power.

“I do see this funny irony of man thinks it can actually heal nature,” she said.

Photographer Anderson’s work, which is up in the museum’s Edward D. Leonard III and Sandra Blake Leonard Gallery, isn’t adorned in crystal, but he sees what Wischer sees in the cracks.

“It references the kind of things that I find in my road trips,” said Anderson, an Little Rock, Ark., resident who worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and later took a job at the White House setting up Clinton’s town hall meetings. He also worked for MTV on its voter empowerment-themed Choose or Lose bus, where Anderson said he first got his wanderlust.

“I just love getting lost and finding these weird bits of beauty in sometimes obscure spots and sometimes obscure views of things people see regularly,” he said. “They’re obviously of certain things and objects but to me they seem to hint at something else that doesn’t tell the story.”

There’s a melancholy to the work, which comes from a series Anderson said he started after the death of his mother seven years ago. In the photographs, roads seem to vanish in the distance, bridges are shrouded in mist, and common sights on farms are the stuff of nightmares — despite the presence of an American flag in “Scarecrow.”

Anderson made some of the show’s photographs in Maine, including one of sap dripping from a pile of tree trunks.

In the larger rear gallery, the UMaine museum’s third exhibit, “Abstract New England: Six Perspectives,” presents a variety of work with a common thread from six artists working in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

“The idea is, these are artists who really are continuing to expand the traditions of abstraction and abstract expressionism,” UMMA director George Kinghorn said. “Even though they are very diverse in their approach to media and materials, there is this sense of making marks and layering.”

The artists, including Mainers Meg Brown Payson and Dudley Zopp, seem to be working in a tradition of action painting in which the artist lets the paint fall as it will, to whatever the result may be.

They play not only with types of paint but the material on which the work is delivered. Terry Rose of Rhode Island experiments with varnishes and pigments on aluminum surfaces which sparkle lightly behind the paint. Louis Risoli of Massachusetts painted some of his work on canvases shaped as if they were pieces of a pie.

“Abstract New England” should whet the appetite for the museum’s coming I-95 Triennial Exhibition, set to be unveiled next April, which will feature the work of artists living along the Interstate 95 corridor in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The three fall exhibitions will close Dec. 31. For more information about the museum, go to www.umma.umaine.edu or call 561-3350.

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