[N]early thirty years ago, an aggressively expanded Farnsworth Art Museum ignited a transformation of downtown Rockland, a city best known at the time for the stink of its fish processing plants and the rowdiness of the motorcycle gangs that patrolled Main Street. The city that emerged — one with trendy boutiques, cafés, and a growing reputation for innovative cuisine — is now the cultural center of the midcoast. No wonder, then, that Rockland is where Maine’s leading contemporary arts organization, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), chose to build its $6 million new home. CMCA projects the move from its charming barnlike digs in neighboring Rockport to the striking contemporary museum designed by world-renowned architect (and North Haven summer resident) Toshiko Mori will quadruple visitation from 9,000 to more than 36,000 visitors a year. It’s a big leap for Rockland too: the CMCA, in combination with the Farnsworth and dozens of arts and crafts galleries within a half-mile radius, will establish the Rock City as Maine’s premier destination for the visual arts. — Virginia M. Wright
By the Sea
The glazed sawtooth roof spills natural light onto the main gallery. Its cultural references are twofold: As an abstract rendering of a series of waves, the roofline suits an arts institution in a longtime fishing port. It’s also a nod to Maine’s manufacturing past: the roof style was introduced in the late 19th century to minimize glare and heat in textile mill weaving rooms.
Visitors enter through the Marilyn Moss Rockefeller Lobby. A major donor, Moss Rockefeller, of Camden, is known locally as the former president and CEO of Moss Inc., a manufacturer of fabric structures founded by her former husband, Bill Moss. An adjacent museum shop sells books, posters, stationery, and other souvenirs.
Total exhibition space in three contiguous galleries is 5,500 square feet. The yet-unnamed main gallery boasts 20-foot-high walls and no interior columns, a benefit of sawtooth-roof construction. The gallery behind it is named for Bruce Brown, CMCA’s curator for 20 years and a longtime champion of Maine contemporary artists. Outfitted with pocket doors, the third gallery doubles as a lecture hall. It’s named for the late sculptor Guy Hughes, former owner of the beloved Coppershed Gallery in Warren.
The 600-square-foot Pingree-Sussman Classroom — named for US Representative Chellie Pingree and financier and philanthropist Donald Sussman — allows CMCA to ramp up its popular program of after-school and school vacation workshops for children. Staff in the adjacent administrative wing will look out on the courtyard.
With its marine-grade zinc siding, the steel structure is in keeping with the character of Rockland’s working waterfront, a small but densely developed district of metal warehouses and boat sheds. The CMCA building replaces a marine garage that was most recently used as a gallery and studio by painter and glass sculptor Eric Hopkins.
Architect Mori has turned the traditional art museum inside out. Instead of designing another austere temple to art (think New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art), the CMCA’s U-shaped glass façade effectively places exhibitions in the public square, allowing passersby to see into the galleries. The viewing is good on the inside too: because the building faces north, it gets cool, indirect light, ideal for displaying art.
The Winter Street sidewalk and museum courtyard are unified by graphite gray pavers. Borofsky’s 24-foot-high Human Structures, a sculpture composed of colorful interconnected human figures, will be the courtyard’s centerpiece.
Every Inch Counts
The building has almost the same square footage (11,500) as CMCA’s former three-story space, yet it offers nearly 2,000 square feet more usable space, thanks to a one-level floor plan that eliminates the need for space-eating stairwells and elevators.
The Center for Maine Contemporary Art is scheduled to open its new building with a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 26. Inaugural exhibitions, on view through August 12, include solo shows by sculptor Jonathan Borofsky, painter Alex Katz, and video artist Rollin Leonard. 21 Winter St., Rockland. 207-701-5005.