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Trip Report To Bowdoin College for the Prendergast exhibit

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Blithely ignoring the fact that we were driving to Virginia next day, my wife and I set out on a five hour (RT) road trip from Brookline, MA, to Brunswick, ME, to see an exhibit of Maurice Prendergast's "seaside" paintings at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. We had gone to a splendid exhibit of his Italian paintings at Williams College several years ago.

Prendergast was an American Impressionist whose painting was gradually influenced by post-Impressionists like Cezanne and Braque. His earlier work, much of it in watercolor, is sunny and bright and depicts people at their leisure, in this case in the 1900 era seaside resorts around Boston like Nantasket, Nahant, and Revere and in Normandy.

There were a LOT of paintings, well hung in beautiful galleries. Many of them were from private collections so unlikely to be on view again any time soon. The organization was chronological with informative but not excessive notes and labels. There was also a small room of works by contemporaries for comparison purposes. Looking at the Normandy paintings, one couldn't help but think of Eugene Boudin's very different paintings of the same scenes, and there was a nice Boudin to compare, though it was not one of his "people on the beach" pictures which might have been more apt. You get what you can borrow.

I loved the crowd scenes, especially the children and dogs playing around the edges of the main composition. My wife, a long time Prendergast fan, showed me how he used similar motifs from painting to painting -- a woman in a white dress with a red parasol, for example -- the way Handel keeps using the same motifs in a variety of compositions, from the Concerti Grossi to the Messiah. All in all, a very enjoyable and to us "Worth It" trip. The exhibition close October 13. Go.

I should say that apart from the beautiful galleries, the museum itself shows just about everything you could imagine to be wrong in modern architecture, despite its having been designed by a famous firm, Machado and Silvetti in Boston.

The galleries are underground. You enter them through a glass pavillion at ground level, either by a pair of long, converging stairs or by an elevator. The elevator is a nightmare since it has no signs or labels, only cryptic digraphs like GE and GW. You are probably smarter than I am, so you probably would know what that meant (Ground Level East it turns out). We took the elevator down and found ourselves in an indeterminate space with no signs to tell us where we were. We looked from this space and saw a blank wooden wall.

So we took the elevator back up and made our way down the stairs, despite mobility limitations. And we found ourselves facing the same blank wall. What is being exhibited? Where is it? No clue. To the right were signs for women's and men's rooms, perhaps required by state law, but signs. To our left was what appeared to be a shop because there was a lot of stuff on display, though the view was again unsullied by a sign, and nothing so vulgar as a sales point could be seen.

Here a charming staff member or docent had mercy on us! We are not apparently the only people tripped up by the egos of the sign-hating architects. There were tiny signs for what was being shown , but they were on a tabletop only visible on the way out of the building (!). She gave us a gallery guide and pointed us through a pair of dark glass (not visibly labeled) doors into beautiful galleries.

The highways to Brunswick (I 95 and 295) run near the coast, so there was very little color, maybe 5-10%, and almost all of that swamp maples.

Still it was a great day, and the art a treat.

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