At least for now, Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells is not holding any specific art exhibitions.
“Before the pandemic, we had three or four shows a season,” the eponymous owner said. “We are working to be at our peak in July and August. That said, we’re still moving, moving, adding and subtracting, a process that I love. The shows always seemed so stagnant; it is active.
In fact, even describing the experience of visiting this rambling structure as “seeing a spectacle” would be grossly inaccurate. The works are stacked against the walls, placed on work tables, suspended without rhyme or apparent reason. Visitors walk through the rooms without following any obvious line. There are no labels.
So how do you write a review for a show that isn’t really a show? The short answer is to simply say: Go – and go often. Daniels was an antique dealer and still is to some degree. Not just because he carries old things, which he does, but not in large quantities; and not because his “exhibition” style is more like hunting and pecking at a high-rise flea market.
It’s because he has the sharp instinct of an antique collector, a way of unearthing the unusual and the extraordinary in an ocean of the expected and the derivative. None of its artists – there are over 30 of them, hailing from all over the world – do work quite like anything you’ve seen.
Or maybe I should say, you might experience a sense of memory that is hard to pin down because the medium, technique, or subject matter is somehow disconnected from the source material of your memory. Take southern Maine artist Peter T. Bennett. Basically, it practices assembly, but its material is sheet aluminum cut into shapes that look like machine parts or clock movements. Many artists let themselves be carried away by the aesthetics of the machine: Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia. You could even trace this theme back to Leonardo.
Yet Bennett turns this interest in mechanics upside down. These artists made painted facsimiles of machines to express the modernist fascination with precision, speed and technology. Here, Bennett uses a characteristic material of modernism – aluminum – to create beautiful images that can appear as aerial views of the shore (“Integrated Voice”), topographic maps (“Skidder”) or evoke a sense of memory, like in “Parabolic Circus”. or “Mutant Vapor,” in which different acrylic glazes applied to the surface make the collages look like corroded artifacts from the machine age. They also reference more modern aesthetic movements such as steam punk.
Tom Cowgill, one of the most interesting artists in the gallery, is a reclusive sculptor whose works seem meditative and hushed. A quartet of works titled “Four Ways to Resemble St. Teresa” — female forms of sewn epoxy resin suspended from cables in steel frames — may conjure up mental images of cocooned nymphs, Damien Hirst’s tiger shark floating in a formaldehyde tank or pod people from sci-fi movies. All are mysterious, sleepwalking and slightly disturbing.
Yet the title most likely refers to the 16th-century Christian figure, Saint Teresa of Ávila, who is said to have experienced trance “ecstasies” in which she levitated. The subject matter resonates otherworldly, as if these works exist in a supernatural state, somewhere between human existence and eternity.
The fact that the association is religious should not overshadow the other associations mentioned above. In fact, he includes them by reaching a common thread between them all: simultaneous human wonder and slightly off-putting fear of the inexplicable. They are also exquisitely crafted works, and their perfection amplifies the sense of transcendence to another dimension.
Daniels has an obvious affinity for clay. The works of Maine ceramists Paul Heroux (New Gloucester), Lynn Duryea (South Portland, Deer Isle) and Jonathan Mess (midcoast) are well known and widely exhibited in Maine, and for good reason. Many of them express Daniels’ admiration for mechanical and architectural form. This is certainly the case with Duryea, whose pieces, according to her artist statement, “evoke abandoned sites of human activity”.
But the same is true of the work of another Mainer, Jonathan White, whose sandstone often resembles three-dimensional manifestations of the industrial buildings photographed by Bernd and Hilla Becher. “Phantom Industrial Object, Weirton, West Virginia” and “Cooling Tower Vessel” are prime examples. Others exploring these themes include New Hampshire-based Don Williams and Swedish ceramist Maria Kristofersson, whose impossibly thin connected forms of terracotta and sandstone have the earthy, simple presence of adobe structures.
Daniels also practices painting and photography. The oil on paper works of Boston artist Eben Haines are lovely. Their classical painting technique, their preoccupation with the human figure and landscape, the look of Roman or Greek statuary, and the way Haines bends them to create creases – all of these elements make them feel old, almost like themselves. they had been produced during the Renaissance. . Yet they are also surreal in the manner of Chirico or Magritte. The combination is moody, enigmatic and elegiac at the same time.
Daniels’ own works are poles apart from Haines. Completely abstract, they’re about brand building, a term I normally hate because it’s such a catch-all that it can often feel so inclusive that it’s meaningless (not all painting is not to some extent a trademark?). But in this case, it seems appropriate because its canvases and chipboard surfaces are variously covered with a personal system of hieroglyphics, hatching or calligraphic lines. There are also grids that can evoke mechanical or mathematical coding.
This barely scratches the surface of Corey Daniels Gallery’s offerings. It’s an accomplishment to wear so many interesting things. This is a tribute to Daniels’ idiosyncratic eye. You’ll want to take a lot of it home, and you’ll be just as happy to leave a lot of it there. But either way, you’ll have to admit – individual tastes notwithstanding – that it’s all intriguing, meticulously crafted and quirky. Even old objects are arranged in sculptural installations like a cabinet of curiosities. You can buy the whole thing or buy individual pieces.
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at: [email protected]