Colby Museum Summer 2024 Preview


Current and upcoming exhibitions highlight artists’ deep connections to place, process, and people

By Bob Keyes
June 13, 2024

This spring and summer, the Colby College Museum of Art will open four new exhibitions. Two of these projects highlight the sense of place and its importance to artists, and all of the shows explore the artistic process and the creative dialogues that artists have with their peers and the past.

Three of the exhibitions include works from the museum’s permanent collection. The Colby Museum’s summer season also spotlights partnerships with cultural institutions in Maine and across the country, while inviting visitors to explore the intersections between personal expression and shared experience. 

“The Colby Museum is a forum. These exhibitions, diverse in their historical, aesthetic, and generational range, draw from our terrific holdings of American art and foreground the vital role of artists in order to bring nuance to the very idea of America,” said Jacqueline Terrassa, Carolyn Muzzy Director of the Colby College Museum of Art. “They seek to open new conversations about the multiple histories of art and the meaning that artworks take when seen in new relationships with each other and from multiple vantage points.”

Martha Diamond

Martha Diamond: Deep Time (July 13–Oct. 13, 2024) reflects the artist’s long-standing ties to Maine. Diamond was a resident faculty member of Maine’s Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, where she also served on the board of governors for more than three decades. Her first major institutional solo exhibition took place concurrently at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and the Portland Museum of Art in 1988.

The Colby Museum—whose collection includes six works by Diamond, spanning the breadth of her career—began its commitment to her work in 1986, when it acquired the soaring, cinematic painting Palisades, a gift from the artist Alex Katz. Diamond’s four paintings and two prints in the collection reflect the museum’s long-standing focus on American art and contemporary art and serve as valuable artistic resources within the context of Colby College and its liberal arts pedagogy.

Oil painting of an abstract yellow ladder-like structure on a cream and red colored background.
Martha Diamond’s Span, 1990 (Oil on linen, 72 x 48 in. [183 x 122 cm], Gift of the Alex Katz Foundation, 2020.027) is included in the exhibition Martha Diamond: Deep Time, on view July 13–Oct. 13, 2024.

Diamond, who passed away in December 2023, is among the most perceptive painters of the last five decades. Her work’s formal concision and painterly bravado reflect an inner dialogue with generations of abstract artists, and the results are exceptional: an inimitable handling of gesture and space that reimagines the landscape tradition while deftly sliding between abstraction and representation. Encompassing paintings, works on paper, and monotypes, the Colby Museum’s focused survey of Diamond’s career proposes “deep time” as a new way of understanding her contribution to American painting. 

Deep time is a concept used to explore thousands of years of human civilization and billions of years of planetary history. In conversation with ancient monuments and the modern skyscraper, this exhibition emphasizes Diamond’s unswerving commitment to capturing the emotional character of built space, tracking throughlines across mediums and methods to reveal a process that combines spirited experimentation with perceptive observation. Remarkably, Diamond maintained her studio in the Bowery section of New York for more than 50 years, beginning in 1969, demonstrating her tremendous perseverance as an artist and her rootedness in a single place over time.

Black and white photo of a female artist in her minimalist studio.
Martha Diamond in her studio, 1993. (Photo by Georges Piette, courtesy of the Martha Diamond Trust)

The exhibition is accompanied by the artist’s first major monograph, an amply illustrated catalog that includes an original essay by the exhibition’s co-curators, a chronology, and texts reprinted from some of Diamond’s most insightful critics: New York poets steeped in the visual arts. Martha Diamond: Deep Time documents the inspirations that converge in, and are transformed by, Diamond’s enigmatic and utterly original work.

This exhibition is co-organized by the Colby College Museum of Art and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, and co-curated by Colby’s Katz Consulting Curator, Levi Prombaum, and the Aldrich’s chief curator, Amy Smith-Stewart. Major support for the exhibition and accompanying publication is provided by an anonymous donor, and generous support is provided by Agnes Gund and David Kordansky Gallery, as well as the Everett and Florence Turner Exhibition Fund and the Mirken Family Publications Fund.

Eastman Johnson

Eastman Johnson and Maine (June 6–Dec. 8, 2024) is the first solo presentation of Johnson’s art in Maine and celebrates the bicentennial of his birth. Born in the western Maine town of Lovell, Johnson became a significant painter of the 19th century and was instrumental in the development of genre painting in the United States. He established his reputation in New York with art that depicted everyday life.

At the height of his career in the 1860s and 1870s, he often turned to his home state for subject matter, creating works that portrayed various aspects of rural experience. Eastman Johnson and Maine will unite 13 of the artist’s paintings of domestic scenes, barn interiors, woodcutters, and the annual rite of maple sugaring, which collectively illuminate agrarian life in the years during and after the Civil War. Paintings in the exhibition come from the Colby Museum collection and through loans from the National Gallery of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Portland Museum of Art; Farnsworth Museum of American Art; and other institutions.

Oil painting from 1864 of a man shelling corn and a boy on the floor stacking corn cobs.
Shelling Corn, 1864 (Oil on academy board, 15 3/8 × 12 1/2 in. [39.1 × 31.8 cm]) by Eastman Johnson is one of 13 paintings by the genre painter in the exhibition Eastman Johnson and Maine on view June 6–Dec. 8, 2024. (Toledo Museum of Art; gift of Florence Scott Libbey 1924.35)

Eastman Johnson and Maine is organized by Sarah Humphreville, Lunder Curator of American Art, with Patricia Hills, director of the Eastman Johnson Catalogue Raisonné Project, serving as scholarly advisor. Generous funding for Eastman Johnson and Maine is provided by Pamela and Max Berry, with additional support from the Bruce C. Drouin ’74 and Janet L. Hansen ’75 Maine Art Endowed Fund and the Everett and Florence Turner Colby Museum of Art Exhibition Fund.

‘Surface Tension’

Surface Tension: Etchings from the Collection (July 13, 2024–Jan. 12, 2025) is drawn entirely from the Colby Museum collection and includes several recent acquisitions. The show features leaders of the 19th-century Etching Revival, like Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas; 20th-century innovators, such as Stanley William Hayter and Mavis Pusey; as well as contemporary practitioners Leonardo Drew, Alex Katz, Amy Sillman, and Terry Winters, among others. 

Etching liberated printmakers from the rigidity and precision of engraving and relief printing because of the chemical interventions that enhanced the depth, fluidity, and intensity of lines in ways never possible with only a hand-carved stroke. Attentive to advancements in modern chemistry and the avant-garde, etching enabled printmakers to produce novel graphic patterns, three-dimensional effects, and expansive tonal fields devoid of lines altogether evoking some of the formal and technical innovation unfolding in the fields of drawing, painting, and sculpture. In this way, this exhibition showcases the technical, formal, and conceptual versatility of the medium over time, demonstrating why it holds such extraordinary scientific and artistic distinction within the broader practice of printmaking. 

An etching from 1879 of two women doing laundry at a table.
Edgar Degas’s Les Blanchisseuses (The Laundresses), 1879 (Etching and aquatint with burnishing, printed in black ink, state it/IV, 8.5 × 11.8 in [21.5 × 30.3 cm], the Lunder Collection, 2023.298) is part of the exhibition Surface Tension: Etchings from the Collection on view July 13, 2024–Jan. 12, 2025.

The museum is also proud to partner with several local print studios throughout the state to commission original copper plates inspired by artwork on view to celebrate the vibrant artistic community in Maine. 

This exhibition is organized by Elisa Germán, Lunder Curator of Works on Paper and Whistler Studies. Support for Surface Tension: Etchings from the Collection is provided by the Lunder Collection Fund, Gerald Stoll ’49 and Carol Stoll Baker ’48 Fund, and Everett and Florence Turner Colby Museum of Art Exhibition Fund. 

‘Alive & Kicking’

Alive & Kicking: Fantastic Installations by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Catalina Schliebener Muñoz, and Gladys Nilsson (June 26–Nov. 11, 2024, Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, downtown Waterville) brings together three contemporary artists remarkable for their punchy, surreal installations. Gladys Nilsson and Catalina Schliebener Muñoz will contribute original works, made onsite in the gallery. Nilsson’s forthcoming installation, rounding Rosie’s ring, will be the largest drawing of her celebrated, decades-long career, depicting acrobatic giantesses in her signature graphic style. Muñoz’s Animales domésticos remixes familiar Disney characters to probe constructions of gender, race, and class. These cartoonish scenes are complemented by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s Mysterium Tremendum (late 1980s), a quasi-autobiographical tale about a queer altar boy growing up Catholic in New Jersey, illustrated across 125 aluminum lasagna pans. 

The expression “alive and kicking” originated among fishmongers in the 1800s to advertise a fresh catch, suggesting something is particularly and especially alive. In that spirit, these artists’ works are lively and vibrant, incorporating elements of storytelling and figuration to illuminate the fantastic in the everyday. Just as the artists will create new, site-specific art in the galleries, visitors will be able to engage with interactive components of this “living” exhibition. Muñoz’s installation includes a participatory zone, inviting audiences to draw and color in a designated area of the artist’s larger-than-life linework. Additionally, the exhibition text and wall labels will appear in a printed booklet that doubles as a coloring book for visitors to take home.

Photograph of several oil paintings done inside of lasagna pans.
The exhibition Alive & Kicking: Fantastic Installations by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Catalina Schliebener Muñoz, and Gladys Nilsson is on view June 26–Nov. 11, 2024, in the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, downtown Waterville. The exhibition includes Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s Mysterium Tremendum, late 1980s. (Mixed media on 125 aluminum lasagna trays. Each tray approximately 13″ x 10 ½” x 2″ [33 x 26.6 x 5 cm.]). (Photo by Howl! Happening. Courtesy of the artist and Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, N.Y.)

This exhibition is organized by Kendall deBoer, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art. Generous funding for Alive & Kicking: Fantastic Installations by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Catalina Schliebener Muñoz, and Gladys Nilsson is provided by an anonymous donor, with additional support from the Hanzer Art Fund, Dorothy Lovell Berry Art Exhibition Fund, Payson Art Collection Fund, and Gerald Stoll ’49 and Carol Stoll Baker ’48 Fund.

“The exhibitions opening this summer foreground the creative process,” said Beth Finch, chief curator. “We’ll feature new works made onsite at the Schmaltz Gallery of Art; explore the inspiration of place––Maine for Eastman Johnson, and New York for Martha Diamond––and take a deep dive into the art and science of etching. We’re excited to debut these stellar new projects as well as significant new acquisitions in our collection galleries.”