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Installation by Wade Kavanaugh '01 at Coleman Burke Gallery

Story posted June 19, 2007

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Benchmark:, an installation by artist Wade Kavanaugh, Bowdoin Class of 2001, is on view through June 30, 2007, at the Coleman Burke Gallery, Fort Andross, 14 Maine Street in Brunswick, Maine. The Coleman Burke Gallery is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Benchmark: is a site-specific installation inspired by the architectural elements and structural idiosyncrasies of the room in which it is built, but to an equal extent by the social, political, and cultural forces of our time. It is also a structure that invites the viewer — not unlike an archeologist or a forensic scientist — to unravel what has happened here and how it came to be.

Central to the design of the piece is the first column diagonally opposite the door, whose slight twist on its axis serves as the organizing principle for the installation's skewed alignment to the room, as well as the crossing point of its cruciform design. Like the arms of a giant revolving door, the skeletal walls of the structure seem to be rotating on this axis, leaving behind the torn and fragmented stacks of wood and plaster "bricks" that apparently once filled the window openings of the piece (much like the bricked up windows that can be found in the room itself).

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Clinging to what appears to have been the wall's original location, aligned with the columns of the room, the stacks of bricks appear to have been pulled and distorted by the force of this glacial movement. Like erratics (large stones) left in the landscape, they bear silent testimony to an abiding force working at a scale far greater than our own, underscoring the differences between human time, architectural time, and geological time.

As well as this implied horizontal movement, Benchmark: suggests a vertical shift as well. A careful reading of the "windows" in the piece — reflecting the ones in the room itself — reveals that the top of the arched window frames are now below our eye level, and the window "sills" well above. Like riders in an elevator caught between floors, we come to realize that the horizontal stripe of torn sheetrock represents the original floor-level of the structure, now shifted to our eye-level.

These clues — as well as others that viewers are encouraged to discover for themselves — create a sense of the familiar gone awry; reflecting, perhaps, the unsettling effects of recent world events on the stability and continuity of those things — such as the buildings designed to shelter and protect us — that we once took for granted.

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Other potential meanings of Benchmark: are revealed through examination and reflection on structural metaphors of this kind. Its use of common building materials and stud wall construction, for example, resembles buildings both under construction and in ruins; reminding us, perhaps, of images we all carry with us: The last walls left standing at the World Trade Center, precarious and haunting, on September 11, 2001; the destruction and painfully slow recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; or perhaps a shared vision of an uncertain future.

Curious and unsettling in yet another way is the elusive identity of the piece itself. Both sculptural and architectural, practical looking yet nonfunctional, Benchmark: is a piece that defies the conventional categories we commonly use to identify and appreciate (much less recognize) a work of art. Both mute and highly evocative, Benchmark: calls into question the nature of its own existence, and by extension, our own. Hauntingly beautiful, it also evokes that equivocal state of consciousness — sometimes hopeful but more often times not — that is so characteristic of our place and time at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

About the Artist
Wade Kavanaugh is a Brooklyn-based artist originally from Winthrop, Maine. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 2001, attended the Bronx Museum's Artist in the Marketplace Program in 2004, and has most recently presented exhibitions of his work at the ISE Cultural Foundation in New York, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the Soap Factory in Minneapolis. This will be Kavanaugh's first show in Maine since his 2005 collaboration with Stephen Nguyen at the Maproom in Portland. Kavanaugh and Nguyen were also recently awarded a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts for their collaborative projects.

About the Gallery
Coleman Burke Gallery, founded and directed by artist John Bisbee (Bowdoin Lecturer in Art), co-directed by artist Mark Wethli (Bowdoin's A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art), and sponsored by Anthony Gatti of Waterfront Maine, is named for Coleman Burke, who has generously donated this space. The mission of the gallery is to serve as a venue for leading artists to create large-scale, site-specific works of art.

For more information, contact John Bisbee at jbisbee@bowdoin.edu or Mark Wethli at mwethli@bowdoin.edu, or 207-725-3761.

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