The Farnsworth revives a forgotten form.
In the 1970s, Michael Komanecky was strolling through the Whitney Museum, in New York, when a work by painter Thomas Hart Benton stopped him in his tracks. It was an abstract seascape set not on a wall-hanging canvas but on a freestanding folding screen — the pragmatic furniture that partitions rooms. “Who the heck knew Benton ever made a screen?” Komanecky thought. Soon, he found out that many artists dabbled in screens from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, and not just with paint: Ansel Adams with photos, for instance, or Louis Comfort Tiffany with stained glass. Komanecky and a colleague organized a 1984 exhibition at the National Gallery of Art and compiled a comprehensive book on the topic.
Now, as chief curator at Rockland’s Farnsworth Art Museum, Komanecky is exploring his old passion in a new way. After recently acquiring two early-20th-century folding screens — one is a romantic view of Camden Harbor by the late Rockport artist Carroll Thayer Berry — the Farnsworth put out a call for original screen designs. In an exhibition titled Screen Show, six new screens by Maine artists accompany the older screens. One new piece doesn’t provide much privacy (“Artists have often played with the idea of denying the screen’s function,” Komanecky notes); another is designed for interchangeable panels. “You can do so many different things with these,” Komanecky says. “That’s the real interest.”