BANGOR — It’s not an exaggeration to say that the University of Maine Museum of Art has become the cultural heart of Bangor.
“We are the art museum for this region,” said Director and Curator George Kinghorn, who for six years has been at the helm of the museum. “It’s not just about our four walls [and what they contain], it’s how can we can grow a sense of place, a notion of community, as a museum.”
The museum relocated in December 2002 from the University of Maine campus in Orono to the first floor of Norumbega Hall, a historic building at 40 Harlow St. in downtown Bangor.
The museum’s downtown location advances the university’s land-grant mission of service to the residents of Maine and beyond, Kinghorn said. “It extends the University of Maine’s reach into the community. It was one of the wisest moves university administration and the city of Bangor ever made,” he said.
Kinghorn has devised his own shorthand for his personal vision of what a museum should be: OWAFA, which stands for Open, Warm, Accessible, Friendly, Ask questions. Kinghorn believes being able to ask questions, to engage in conversation about art, and to learn about art are as much a part of the museum experience as viewing art.
“[UMMA] is an intimate museum where people can have a comfortable experience with art. It’s a lovely center of engagement for people of all ages,” he said.
The museum’s focus is on modern and contemporary art from 1945 to the present from throughout the United States. Seventy percent of the permanent collection, which numbers more than 3,700 pieces, has been collected since 1920.
Currently, 70 pieces of the permanent collection are featured in the exhibit “From Piranesi to Picasso: Master Prints from the Permanent Collection” on view through March 22. The exhibit, Kinghorn said, features every imaginable process of print making, including etching, woodblock, woodcut, silkscreen, and combinations thereof. Highlights of the exhibit include prints created by John Marin, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Pablo Picasso, and Francisco Goya.
“People are driving a long way to see this show,” Kinghorn said. “It’s an amazing and very valuable collection. It’s great fun to educate people about the various print processes.”
Picasso prints grouped on one wall in the UMMA exhibit are from the same series of prints owned by museums in Boston and New York City. Picasso’s print, “Fawn Unveiling a Woman,” Kinghorn pointed out, “can be seen in Bangor as well as New York.”
Each year, Kinghorn curates 12 original exhibits, plus rotating exhibits from the permanent collection. He scouts out artists in mid-career to investigate the possibilities of how the museum and artist might collaborate. The goal is to allow artists to push themselves or to explore an artistic path he or she might not have considered before, Kinghorn said.
“Parabellum” by Maine-based artist Kenny Cole, on display through March 22 at UMMA, is an example of a museum-artist collaboration that Kinghorn has fostered. Cole’s interactive installation was created especially for the museum’s Zillman Gallery. It consists of 82 two-sided canvases painted as red and white flags, with reverse sides containing battle maps, hidden landscapes, and fictional narrative such as might have been written from the battlefields of the American Civil War.
Also on display “through March 22 is “Time’s Wife” by Hannah Cole, an artist based in New York City, whose paintings are inspired by everyday objects, such as manhole covers and graffiti-defaced metal doors.
Kinghorn currently is working with an artist who is creating jewelry as art objects, pieces that are not necessarily wearable. Other shows set for 2015 and 2016 are in the planning stages.
When Kinghorn envisions the museum’s future, he sees it in terms of service and education to the public: new programs to educate children and adults, a community space to showcase work by local artists and by students of the new Fine Arts Academy at Bangor High School, and an annual travel program that would take participants on a guided, multi-night trip to view art in Boston and New York.
Public awareness of what the museum has to offer is reflected in the up-tick of the museum’ number of visitors. In 2007, Kinghorn said, 3,900 people came to view the museum’s exhibits. In 2013, 14,000 visited the museum. Free admission has played a great part in upping the number of visitors, he said. Penobscot Financial Advisors is the sponsor for free admission at the museum for 2014.
Also in those six years, UMMA has added 260 works of art to its collection, including seven recently acquired pieces by artist Andy Warhol.
“The museum brings works to Bangor that Maine people otherwise may not have a chance to see. People [in the art world at home and beyond] know what we are doing here,” Kinghorn said.
For information about UMMA, call 561-3350 or visit umma.maine.edu. Admission to the museum is free.