At least for the moment, Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells isn’t hanging any specific art shows.
“Pre-pandemic we had three or four shows a season,” said the eponymous owner. “We work toward being at our prime in July and August. That said, we are always shifting, moving, adding and subtracting, a process I love. Shows always seemed so stagnant; this is active.”
In fact, to even describe the experience of visiting this rambling structure as “seeing a show” would be wildly inaccurate. Works are stacked against walls, sitting atop worktables, hanging with no apparent rhyme or reason. Visitors meander through rooms without an obvious through-line to follow. There are no labels.
So how to write a review for a show that’s not really a show? The short answer is to simply say: Go – and go often. Daniels used to be an antiques dealer and still is to some extent. Not just because he carries old things, which he does, though not in great quantity; and not because his “exhibition” style feels more like hunting and pecking through a very elevated flea market.
It’s because he has an antique collector’s honing instinct, a way of unearthing the unusual and extraordinary from an ocean of the expected and derivative. None of his artists – of which there are over 30, hailing from around the globe – does work that looks quite like anything else you’ve seen.
Or perhaps I should say, you might feel a sense of recollection that’s hard to pin down because the medium or technique or subject matter is somehow disconnected from the source material of your memory. Take southern Maine artist Peter T. Bennett. Fundamentally, he practices assemblage, but his material is sheet aluminum cut in shapes that resemble machine parts or clockworks. Many artists were swept into the thrall of machine aesthetics: Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia. You could even trace this thematic all the way to Leonardo.
Yet Bennett turns this interest in the mechanical inside out. Those artists were making painted facsimiles of machines to express the modernist fascination with precision, speed and technology. Here, Bennett uses a signature material of modernism – aluminum – to create beautiful pictures that can appear like aerials of the shore (“Integrated Voice”), topographical maps (“Skidder”) or evoke a sense of memory, as in “Parabolic Circus” or “Mutant Vapor,” in which different acrylic enamels applied to the surface make the collages look like corroded artifacts of the Machine Age. They also reference more modern aesthetic movements such as steam punk.
Tom Cowgill, one of the gallery’s most interesting artists, is a reclusive sculptor whose works feel meditative and hushed. A quartet of works titled “Four Ways to Resemble St. Teresa” – female forms of stitched epoxy resin suspended from cables within steel frames – can summon mental pictures of cocooned pupae, Damien Hirst’s tiger shark floating in a tank of formaldehyde or pod people from sci-fi flicks. All of them are mysterious, somnambulant and slightly eerie.
Yet the title most probably refers to the 16th-century Christian figure St. Teresa of Ávila, who is said to have experienced trance-like “raptures” in which she reportedly levitated. The subject matter reverberates with otherworldliness, as if these works exist in a supernatural state poised somewhere between human existence and eternity.
The fact that the association is a religious one needn’t obliterate the other associations mentioned above. In fact, it includes them by getting at a unifying thread amongst them all: the simultaneous human wonderment 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-based 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 articulate Daniels’ admiration for mechanical and architectural form. This is certainly true of Duryea, whose pieces, according to her artist statement, are “evocative of abandoned sites of human activity.”
But it is equally true of the work of another Mainer, Jonathan White, whose stoneware often looks like 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-walled connected forms of terra cotta and stoneware slip have the earthy, simple presence of adobe structures.
Daniels also carries painting and photography. The oil-on-paper works of Boston artist Eben Haines are ravishing. Their classical painting technique, their preoccupation with the human figure and landscape, the appearance of Roman or Greek statuary, and the way Haines folds them to create creases – all of these elements make them feel old, almost as if they were produced in the Renaissance. Yet they are also surreal in the manner of de Chirico or Magritte. The combination is moody, enigmatic and elegiac all at once.
Daniels’ own works are polar opposites to Haines. Completely abstract, they are about mark-making, a term I normally abhor because it is such a catch-all that it can often feel so inclusive as to be meaningless (isn’t all painting mark-making to some extent?). But in this case, it seems appropriate because his canvases and chipboard surfaces are variously covered with a personal system of hieroglyphics, hatch marks or calligraphic lines. There are also grids that can conjure mechanical or mathematical coding.
This barely scratches the surface of offerings at Corey Daniels Gallery. It is an accomplishment to carry so much that is so interesting. 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 much of it there. But in either case, you will have to admit – individual tastes notwithstanding – that it is all intriguing, meticulously crafted and original. Even antique objects are arranged in sculptural, cabinet-of-curiosities-style installations. You can buy the whole thing or purchase individual pieces.
Jorge S. Arango has written about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at: [email protected]