After a long 18 months of worry, turmoil and depressing pandemic news, when something good happens, it can feel like a sliver of sunlight in a sky full of dark, foreboding clouds.
That’s what Zillman Art Museum executive director and curator George Kinghorn hopes the new expansion for the University of Maine’s contemporary art museum is for downtown Bangor: a ray of light in a world that can feel a little grim sometimes.
“This is something good. This is something optimistic,” Kinghorn said of the expansion, which opens to the public on Saturday. “This is something that Bangor can be proud of. I know we’re pretty proud of it ourselves.”
The expansion — announced in April 2020 alongside a $1.3 million gift from longtime Maine arts patrons Donald and Linda Zillman for whom the museum was renamed — was recently completed, and added five new galleries on the main floor of Norumbega Hall. It increases the museum’s gallery space by about 50 percent, and creates continuity between both of the museum’s entrances — from Harlow Street and Hannibal Hamlin Park. Museum supporters raised another $300,000 to finish the project earlier this year.
Kinghorn said that he and his staff and board of directors at the museum have had the goal of expanding the museum since he first came to Bangor in 2008, though in reality it was something that had been discussed even as early as the museum’s relocation from UMaine’s Orono campus to Bangor in December 2002.
“From day one that was something we knew we had to accomplish,” he said. “Downtown Bangor has grown so much in that time, and we had to grow along with it.”
The new expansion features an attractive glass entryway on the main floor and five galleries spread out along the building’s northeast wall. While construction was originally planned for fall 2020, pandemic-related shortages in labor and materials pushed its start to 2021.
The lower-level galleries were able to stay open during that time, though the Zillman was closed for a period of time during the early days of the pandemic and maintained restricted hours during other periods. It is now open for its regular hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays with mask-wearing required.
“This allows us to do so much more with our space, in terms of exhibitions and in terms of offering programming,” Kinghorn said. “It makes the museum even more of a destination.”
With such a major addition to the museum now open, the art on display this fall had to match the new energy permeating the space. With that in mind, the nine exhibitions now on display are some of the most intriguing, thought-provoking and, at times, entertaining that the museum has featured in some years.
In the new galleries, “The Soul of It: Anne Arnold” features works from the sculptor and painter who in her later years split her time between New York City and Waldo County before her death in 2014. The museum recently acquired two of Arnold’s captivating animal sculptures, including a delightful wooden carving of her dog, a borzoi named Monte.
Also in the new galleries are other newly acquired works to the museum’s permanent collection, as well as a selection of photographs also in the museum’s permanent collection. Rounding out the exhibitions in the new galleries is “tender land: Shona MacDonald,” featuring the Massachusetts-based MacDonald’s delicate paintings of water, rain and landscapes.
Downstairs, visitors to the museum are greeted by an enormous Hawaiian shirt created by San Francisco-based artist Sidney Russell, who in her exhibit “The Big Stitch” has fashioned huge articles of clothing out of painted canvas, sewn together and displayed on oversized clothes hangers. Russell created two works, “The Hiking Boot” and “Backpack,” specifically for her Zillman exhibition, paying homage to Maine’s outdoor culture.
Also in the downstairs galleries is “Watch the Birdie!” featuring over 40 photographs by Czech artist Roman Franc, an exhibition produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic; “Future Possessive,” featuring dramatic, slightly surreal paintings by Boston artist Emily Eveleth; and “Domesticated,” photographs by Amy Stein meditating on the subject of habitat loss and climate change, a holdover from the museum’s spring and summer exhibits. More works from the permanent collection are also on display downstairs.
For more information, visit zam.umaine.edu.