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Modernism Both Past and Present Shine in Two Shows at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art

Now open past summer for the first time, OMAA presents a series of exhibitions from their permanent collection and contemporary art in Ogunquit, Maine. “Ever Baldwin: Down the Line and “Networks of Modernism: 1898-1968posit Modernism as a starting place for explorations of place and psyche.

Review by Hilary Irons

Colorful modernist works adorn the walls of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.

Installation view, “Ever Baldwin: Down the Line,” Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Maine. On view through November 12, 2023. Image courtesy of Annabelle Collette.

This autumn marks a pivotal moment for the Ogunquit Museum of American Art (OMAA), which will be open past summer for the first time, in the winsome seaside town of Ogunquit, Maine. A series of exhibitions focusing on both the permanent collection and contemporary art highlight this ambitious move forward. “Ever Baldwin: Down the Line and “Networks of Modernism: 1898-1968posit Modernism as a starting place for explorations of place and psyche.

From the late nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth, a large concentration of artists’ studios, galleries, workshops, and experimental art schools existed in Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove fishing village; the Ogunquit Museum of American Art opened nearby in 1953. Since that time it has been a seasonal museum, its summer-only status reflecting the ubiquity of Maine’s vacation culture. This year it will extend its season to November 12, emphasizing a new level of seriousness and ambition under Executive Director Amanda Lahikainen and Curator of Modern and Contemporary American Art Devon Zimmerman.

Founded by painter Henry Strater, OMAA holds a collection of Modernist artworks that reflect a specific historical current in American Art. Often nervy, frequently painted with heavy shadows and unapologetic gestural mark making, OMAA’s collection of paintings form a powerful narrative of turbulence and searching in the American vision. As a counterpoint to the rawness of the paintings, much of the sculpture at OMAA is geometrical, balanced, and hypnotically smooth. In conversation with this work, contemporary art in temporary exhibits fills the Eastern side of the museum, a windowed wall looking directly out at the ocean. Those currently on view pose questions about the dialogic nature of such traditional practices as painting and sculpture in historically crystalized periods, and asking how they intersect with contemporary art in both form and intention.

The OMAA permanent collection is intense and revelatory in “Networks of Modernism: 1898-1968.”  Fizzing with the anxious energy of the early- to mid-twentienth century, paintings from that time period dominate this powerful show, curated by Dr. Zimmerman with selected work from the collection. Marsden Hartley’s Still Life with Eel, from 1917, sets the tone as a visionary, shamanic fable about a flower and a fish, anchored in an abstract compositional matrix. This narrative sensibility is reflected in the Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s peevish fantasy The Bad Dream (1924), while the scratchy attack of paint on surface is reflected in Walt Kuhn’s Sleeping Girl (1922) in which the aggression of the dark, zigzag shadows beneath an exhausted dancer seem to deprive her of rest. Nervous balances of darks, lights, and bright colors underscore more stories of labor and movement in Jacob Lawrence’s Carpenters (1977), Margeurite Zorach’s Sawing the Logs (1940), Channing Hare’s The End of Summer (1953), and Charles Augustus “Gus” Mager’s Cave Men (1930). Weirdness, tension, and off-kilter near-balance mark these paintings, all featuring characters on the brink of physical and/or mental collapse and all using aggressive material technique to get there. By contrast, sculptures like Adolph Dioda’s sandstone Antelope (1950) are almost obsessively harmonious and still, their surfaces smoothed and polished into silence.

Ever Baldwin, (left) Your Contribution, 2022. Oil on canvas in charred wood frame. 2″ x 32″ x 4″. Courtesy of Weissman Family Collection. (middle) Skateaway, 2022. Oil on canvas in charred wood frame. 42″ x 22″ x 4″. Private Collection, New York. (right) Stella, 2021. Oil on canvas in charred wood frame. 33″ x 34″ x 6″. Courtesy of Heather Hubbs. © Ever Baldwin. Image Courtesy of Matt Grubb. Installation view, “Ever Baldwin: Down the Line,” Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Maine. On view through November 12, 2023. Image courtesy of Annabelle Collette.

Brilliantly stationed in the room adjacent to the permanent collection, “Ever Baldwin: Down the Linetakes on both the rawness of these paintings and the languid rounded edges of the sculpture. Hung densely in a long, alcove-like room, Baldwin’s work holds a force of physical specificity that makes the viewer feel surrounded by attentive bodies. Mirroring the extremity of action in the figurative works in Networks of Modernism, Baldwin paints body-like compositions with sharp darts of the brush, zips of pure color, and a sandy, raw viscosity of material. In What would you like? (2022) eyes are conflated with nipples, and either way they are bright red and staring straight at you. Skateaway, 2022, uses one-point perspective to lay the architecture for the face of a sardonic gargoyle; in Stella (2021) a leotard-clad body looms with grim intention.

These scratchily-painted semi-personages are framed with carved charred-wood frames. Undulating and biomorphic, creating curtain-like prosceniums around each painting, they resemble the frames of retablos, and similarly lift the paintings into a contemplative, elevated psychic place. With rounded edges and a light-sucking black surface of charred wood, they also call to mind the eerie smoothness of the OMAA’s midcentury sculpture. Roping several languages of Modernist visual strategy together, Baldwin creates pieces that each hold the force of an entire persona; each of these personae confront the viewer face-to-face in “Down the Line.

Ever Baldwin, What would you like?, 2022. Oil on canvas in charred wood frame. 42″ x 36″ x 4″ (106.7 x 91.4 x 10.2 cm). Courtesy of Marcia Eitelberg/Collectors Circle. © Ever Baldwin. Image Courtesy of Matt Grubb.

With Modernism as its harbor, Baldwin’s work sails straight into the heart of current anxieties, concerns, and romances. “It is the way that Ever marries and leverages these strategies to create paintings that are open, existing, and operating between categories that defies Modernist immediacy and infuses the works with a praxis and politics that speak to the present moment,” Dr. Zimmerman says.

Also on view are elegant sculptures in “Meg Webster: Site Specific Work” and fuzzy textile-based escapes from reality in “Spontaneous Generation: The Work of Liam Lee.”  Temporary murals by Joe Wardwell round out the exuberance of this season’s offerings, with texts by Chilean American writer Marjorie Agosín subsumed inside jewel-tinted patterns. Less than an hour and a half from Boston and situated directly on the seaside, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art is a beautiful and intellectually replenishing destination this fall. 


Ever Baldwin: Down the Line” and “Networks of Modernism: 1898-1968” are on view at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art through November 12, 2023.

Hilary Irons is a Maine-based painter and curator. She is Gallery and Exhibitions Director at the University of New England, and is represented by Dowling Walsh Gallery. She received an MFA from the Yale School of Art in ’08 and a BFA from Parsons School of Design in ’02, and has attended residencies at the Albers Foundation, Skowhegan, MacDowell, the American Academy in Rome, the Pace House, Hewnoaks, the Canterbury Shaker Village, and the Surf Point Foundation.  She has written for The Chart, Art New England, Maine Magazine, and other publications.

Hilary Irons

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