Art Becomes Familiar at a Gallery within a Restaurant in Belfast
Gracing the walls of Chase’s Daily, the artwork of Perimeter Gallery transforms daily routines into cultural experiences.
Margaret Nomentana’s large-scale, high-contrast abstract paintings crackle with vibrant energy beneath the lofty tin ceilings of Perimeter Gallery. Colored blocks of semi-geometrical forms, hard-edged against black backgrounds and arranged like nonstandard musical notation, echo the energy of both the lunchtime crowd at Chase’s Daily and the riotous plants for sale by the back door. Laughter, voices, and footsteps ring out around the paintings, which hold and reflect the noise. Located on the high, wide walls of the downtown Belfast bakery, restaurant, and farm stand, Perimeter Gallery exists on the margins of frenetic activity that’s embodied in turn by the artwork. Nomentana, a painter who lives in western Maine’s White Mountains, is the latest in a series of accomplished contemporary artists to show at Perimeter over the past two decades. Her exhibition, Maniacs, Ruffians, and Thieves, marks Perimeter’s post-pandemic return to a regular exhibition schedule—a move that has been eagerly anticipated by lovers of contemporary painting and printmaking across Maine.
Freddy LaFage, who is a painter and Perimeter’s curator, moved to Maine in the late 1990s after meeting fellow artist Meg Chase in New York City, where both were studying at the New York Studio School. The Chase family had been farming in the midcoast for decades before they acquired the iconic Belfast space in 1998 as a farm market and restaurant. The former Odd Fellows Hall had drop ceilings and fluorescent lights that they quickly removed to reveal the restaurant’s trademark tin ceilings and cathedral-like height. LaFage soon got to work energizing the sweeping white walls with contemporary artwork in an ongoing series of shows. Karen MacDonald, an artist who cooked at Chase’s Daily for 14 years, joined LaFage in 2006 to assist with programming at Perimeter. Together they form a spirited and efficient curatorial team with a clear sense of the kind of artwork that will reflect, and benefit from, the vitality of Chase’s Daily. Their vision is widely respected by artists across Maine. “As an artist showing in their space, I feel my work is allowed to push and test itself because it is held by the sturdiness of their vision,” says Camden painter Meghan Brady, who exhibits her dazzling abstract paintings regularly at Perimeter.
The wide-open space, the clear light, and the striking, beautiful plants that animate the back room allow the artwork to shine, and the community of regular customers at Chase’s Daily provides a route through which art can unfold before an audience in a unique way. “The art transforms the space every time something new goes up. That’s one of the things we look for: work that will transform your experience when you enter the space,” says LaFage. When people come through Chase’s Daily regularly, they encounter the artwork again and again.
Its meaning changes for viewers as the days go by, in a way that would be difficult to replicate in a museum setting, where a single focused trip to an exhibition is the extent of many visitors’ interaction with the programming. When artwork inhabits the space of daily life, it is given the opportunity to speak a language that is in tune with the rhythms of that place’s culture. The work that LaFage and MacDonald highlight at Perimeter reflects this active role in the life of Belfast.
Perimeter’s influence as a gallery has been increasingly recognized in recent years as well. In a 2019 Down East magazine story on Maine art leaders’ favorite under-the-radar places to see art in the state, Suzette McAvoy, then executive director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, and Paul Sacaridiz, executive director of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, both chose Perimeter. Artists involved in Perimeter’s programming share the sentiment. Meghan Brady feels that the space is “the opposite of the white cube: it is full of people, full of produce, full of conversation, full of energy. This gives the space a modesty and openness that is truly a relief from the regular art exhibition scene.” The counterpoint Perimeter provides to museums and high-end galleries allows restaurant visitors to sink into an immersive visual art experience without formality, in the presence of everyday beauty. The artists at Perimeter radiate the propulsive intensity of the gallery in their artwork, helping to create an unfolding experience of visual curiosity for the people of Belfast and beyond.
Read more arts stories:
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- Art Becomes Familiar at a Gallery within a Restaurant in Belfast
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