Currently on display in the Colby Museum of Art, the project “Hand in Hand” features Sarah Cain’s colorful array of abstract art made to be walked on, sat on, and touched.
Immediately upon entering the museum, Cain’s rainbow sofas, playful paintings, and washi floor span across the William D. Adams Gallery Floor, visually greeting visitors and allowing them a space to rest among her work.
Cain, known for her large architectural-scale compositions of experimental abstract art, has created an on-site diverse collection of canvas paintings and painted furniture that sit in dialogue with one another, working together to form a unified whole.
The exhibit opened to the public on March 31 and will continue until Dec. 11.
“This project with Sarah Cain originated in 2016 when I saw an exhibition of Sarah’s work at a place called Galerie Lelong, and someone by the name of Liz Bower — who’s actually a Colby alumna — is a gallerist there, and she was working with Sarahå Cain,” Lunder Chief Curator Beth Finch said.
“Sarah had completed a floor for a gallery and we just loved it. It was just so inspiring to see an artist working at this scale and working with abstraction in a way that’s quite serious but also quite playful.”
Finch originally intended for the Colby College Museum of Art to feature Cain’s work in 2020, but, due to issues with timing, had to postpone the project.
During the installation process, Cain went against her traditional role as an artist and took the initiative of directing the team with how she wanted her work set up.
“As a curator, it was really rewarding to see her really lead an installation team, so…that she could stay ‘two steps ahead of them’ because she didn’t come in with a set design. There were certain things she wanted to do, but she works very sight-responsively,” Finch said.
Surprising the museum installation team, Cain removed one of the four paintings that was up prior to her arrival to add more to the design, then put the piece back up herself when finished.
“There were a few of those moments like ‘woah, woah, woah, she’s taking art off the wall,’ but then it’s like ‘oh, right, it’s her art, she owns it and she knows how to move her paintings,’” Finch expressed. “We trust artists, we consider them in many ways doing research just like a scholar would, but just perhaps with visual materials, and so it was very inspiring to have Sarah here and leading.”
The project, in its entirety, has forced faculty to surrender their usual museum protocol and adopt an attitude of openness to create a more immersive environment for museum attendees.
“I think a project of this nature also requires a real leap of faith, and having art that you can walk on and sit on, like the sofas and the floor, they definitely challenge us in ways to ask questions like ‘What is art?’ ‘Where do you find it?’ ‘How do you experience it?’” Finch said.
For Cain, art is meant to have a real place and role in the world rather than existing only as a passive medium for viewing.
“I think she wants art to be in the world, and while these are precious paintings, she wants them to have that kind of reach and to be sight responsive,” Finch said.
Finch felt that Cain, by allowing visitors to engage with the art first-hand by sitting on the painted sofas and walking on the sea of painted flooring, gave rise to the very innate and historic process of interacting with art rather than treating each piece as a distant production for the eyes.
“Painting is a very ancient thing, very ancient, like the neanderthals were painting in caves. So it’s a very primal impulse, and [Cain] wants to bring that to us as a way of putting down your phone, or being in a space and being present in an experience. I think that’s what she’s hoping to be able to do through this work. It’s also great to photograph it and share on social media, but I think ultimately what she wants is [for us] to experience it in a very personal way.”
Cain’s work takes on a very nuanced approach of working with the tradition of abstraction but also making new moves to reflect her own spirit in each piece.
“So in the case of this painting Glory, she has what looks like a kind of Jackson Pollock-like splatter, but then you could think ‘what about paintball.’ There’s a sense of playfulness and not taking yourself too seriously, but also making serious statements about what a painting can be and how it can act in the world,” Finch said.
Cain’s career has taken off over the last few years, and Finch was appreciative of the fact that she still made the time to stick with the project as promised.
“I’m grateful to Sarah that she’s stuck with us. Her career has grown quite a bit since we were originally talking to her — she has this major commission in the National Gallery and she has a lot of other projects happening, but the fact that she stuck with this project and was willing to see it through with us was really great.”
For anyone in need of a break from the sad, cold and gloomy Maine weather, a stop in the museum might be just the cure you need!
“I love the color and to have it emerging in March when it’s often very gray and cold here almost felt like some kind of color cure for the cold we’re experiencing,” Finch said.
~ Jenna Boling `24