New Art Museum Show Shares a Lifetime of Jim Dine Portraits

By Rebecca Goldfine
An exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art features more than sixty drawn portraits by the artist that he has donated to the museum over the past decade.
Self-Portrait, 2023, charcoal on paper, 11 1/4 x 11 1/8 in. (28.5 x 22 cm). Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Gift of the Jim Dine Art Trust.
Last Year's Forgotten Harvest will focus on Dine's portraits of others, but will include a self-portrait completed in 2023. Self-Portrait, 2023, charcoal on paper, 11 1/4 x 11 1/8 in. (28.5 x 22 cm). Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Gift of the Jim Dine Art Trust.

The exhibition, Jim Dine: Last Year's Forgotten Harvest, includes drawings of those who've been closest to Dine over the past sixty-five years, including his three sons—Nick, Matt, and Jeremy—their mother, Nancy Dine; his wife, Diana Michener; and other artists, poets, and intellectuals.

Dine, who is eighty-eight, traveled to Brunswick in October with two assistants—Daniel Clarke and Olympe Racana-Weiler, both of whom appear as portrait subjects in the show—to meet with Museum staff and to help plan the show.

He mentioned that he's looking forward to seeing all of the artworks together—the older with the more recent pieces. Over the decades, he's kept many drawings nearby, storing them in his studios in Walla Walla, Washington, and in Paris, France, and never or rarely showing them publicly. "They all come from different times, but they are all about one thing—intimate drawings of friends or acquaintances," he said.

Museum codirector Anne Collins Goodyear said that the body of work in Last Year's Forgotten Harvest, now part of the Museum of Art's permanent collection‚ "represents a circle of figures formative for Jim, and helps us understand the larger network of individuals of which Dine is a part, fleshing out our sense of how Dine became Dine and who continues to influence him."

She noted that the art world has long lauded Dine for his candid and oftentimes symbolic self-portraiture. Last Year's Forgotten Harvest departs from this focus by being the first exhibition to delve into the artist’s portraits of others. Yet, in a way, she noted, the show "is an extension of the larger act of autobiography that has long characterized his work and his exploration of self."

Dine worked on his drawings over extended periods of time, sometimes for years, so they capture the changes his subjects underwent and the way his relationships with them shifted. "Through this constellation of individuals," Goodyear wrote in an essay, "we observe how portraiture can register the intensity of human connection experienced through time." 

Last Year's Forgotten Harvest

The show's title grows out of one of Dine's poems, Last Year's Forgiving Heart, which is fitting since Dine's writing is closely entwined with his drawing. "I was born to draw," he said. "It is what I care about—drawing is the basis, the source of everything I do. Drawing informs my poetry, the way I compose, the way I observe, the way I look hard."

Last Year's Forgiving Heart

The magic falls,
Years go by,
Hitting the window
They get used up.
The missing Jew!
        Your house
        Your name
The harpies know why —
The tub
To die in, killer tub,
Last year's forgotten harvest.
There is a new lift
        this Spring
        and a twisted lyre
        It turns out.
The heroics,

Dine, Jim. A Beautiful Day: Seventeen Poems. Gottingen, Germany. Steidl, 2021.

As a result of this process and Dine's patience, "the paper is heavily worked from Dine constantly going back and revising—although he uses the word correcting," she said. "He does erase sometimes, but he loves to leave his tracks."

"He recognizes that his perception changes and bodies move in space," she added, "so those tracks are evidence of his hand revising and reshaping the portraits, giving these objects a living presence that to my mind is consonant with the experiences of how faces reflect lives lived." She observed that the surfaces of the paper seem to take on a texture akin to the skin of Dine’s sitters.

During his recent visit to campus, Dine spoke briefly about the show and his decision to gift the Museum with portraits of meaningful people in his life. His friend Ruth Fine, a longtime curator at the National Gallery of Art, was the first to suggest Bowdoin as an appropriate place for his art.

Goodyear said the Museum is thrilled to have been chosen to protect oversee this significant body of work by Dine and to help steward his legacy. She added that the Museum's history has positioned it to be an ideal place to connect the public with important drawings and portraits.

"Bowdoin is home to the first public collection of works on paper, specifically drawings, due to James Bowdoin III's bequest in 1811" of seventy European paintings and a portfolio of 141 old master drawings, she said. "As a result of that, the Museum has a long history of excellence with works on paper, and drawings in particular."

Bowdoin’s gift also conferred on the College strong holdings of portraiture, including historic likenesses of James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and the benefactor and his wife by Gilbert Stuart, and of Samson Occam by Nathaniel Smibert.

It i's also significant that Dine selected a college museum for his art, she continued. "He’s been mindful of what it means to teach and bring the next generation along," she said. On Friday, February 23, he will return to Bowdoin for a public program focused on his drawings. Welcoming all, Dine will gear the event largely toward students.

In a Museum press release about the show, Dine noted that even at his age, he's "still full of desire" and loves to work. "The determination to see pushes me onward. The world, as we knew it, is gone. We and they have seen to that, but still I have the great urge to speak by drawing. It makes me ‘stay’ a little longer out there, in the ether.”