Crate Expectations

The last time we checked in with Aaron Stephan, the Portland-based artist and MECA grad was making sculptures out of giant stacks of paper. Later, he created "Lift," a permanent installation of a two-story-high table and chairs that is a show-stopper at USM. And while the scale of "Vessels Absent," a site-specific installation at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, is a bit smaller, the visual impact is larger than life.

When you enter the gallery at UMMA, walk past the mesmerising silverpoint etchings by Carol Prusa, and pass the divider that separates the two main exhibition spaces, Stephan's work catches you off guard. In the center of the room, a group of 8-foot-tall, human-shaped crates is arranged so they're contemplating the blank walls that surround them. Posed with chin in hand, or tilted back to take it all in, the wooden sentinels stand like coffins, lids open and tossed aside, piles of shredded paper at their feet. In smart, tongue-in-cheek style, Stephan has not only turned packing material into art, he has turned viewer into viewee. It's genius, and it is so worth the trip to Bangor.

While you're there, don't miss Stephan's intricate, tiny pen-and-ink drawings, which are tucked away in a small gallery near the entrance. We like his riffs on the work of the Dutch masters, but our favorite is his map of "Ulysses." Since we can't make it past page 14 of the James Joyce classic, it's nice to know what the rest looks like.

It's a humorous play on scale — and the art we consider precious — and we wouldn't expect anything less from Aaron Stephan.

The University of Maine Museum of Art is located at 40 Harlow St. In Bangor. For directions or hours, click here.


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