BRATTLEBORO -- Mara Williams had one question for the 13 artists selected from nearly 400 applicants for the New England Biennial 2012 exhibit which opens Friday at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center: Why?
"I asked them ‘Why did you decide to apply?’ And they answered: ‘Because you do the best contemporary art shows. We consider you to be the best contemporary art museum in New England, except for maybe the DeCordova.’ They were thrilled to get into it," said Williams, chief curator at the BMAC.
"Thrilled" is a word that might describe patrons’ experiences, too.
For this new show, filling five of the museum’s six galleries and its outdoor sculpture, a dazzling assortment of paintings, photographs, drawings, sculpture and installation artwork by baker’s dozen of artists from the region make up the New England Biennial 2012, which opens Friday and continues through March 1, 2013.
Casting a net wide enough to cover all six New England states, the museum hauled in nearly 400 applicants for the juried exhibit. From there, Stephen Haller of the Stephen Haller Gallery in New York City, selected the 13 artists.
The result: a show of variety, richness and stunning creativity, reflecting a region teeming with high-caliber artists whose work has something to say.
"There are a huge number of professional artists with a lot of richness to their work, a lot of depth, who are having a lot of conversations with the viewer," said Williams. "There’s an incredible diversity of work out there, but there are lots of cross-currents in the art world. ... But it’s more than a dialogue with the art world, it’s a dialogue with the human condition."
The idea for New England Biennial 2012 grew out of the BMAC’s triennial juried exhibit, "In the Zone," which was launched in 2005 and was open only to artists living within 75 miles of Brattleboro.
"One benefit of expanding the ‘zone’ to include all six New England states is that we have had the pleasure of getting acquainted with the work of the nearly 400 artists -- from Greenwich, Conn., to Orono, Maine -- who sent in work for consideration. Many were previously unknown to us, and it is likely that their work will find its way into our galleries in the years to come," stated Williams.
The artists featured in New England Biennial 2012 are William Brayton (Conway, Mass.), Christine Destrempes (Harrisville, N.H.), Michael Donovan (Cheshire, Conn.), Marjorie Forte (Cambridge, Mass.), Benedicte Lassalle (Boston), Greg Mencoff (Somerville, Mass.), Roslyn Meyer (Guilford, Conn.), Lynn Richardson (Marlborough, N.H.), JoAnne Russo (Saxtons River), Robert Steinem (Colrain, Mass.), Jason Travers (Providence, R.I.), Denis Versweyveld (Vergennes) and Kathryn Lipke Vigesaa (Belvidere).
Though the work is diverse, "there are common trends and currents and eddies," said Williams, using an apt metaphor.
"There is a big emphasis on water, both for its spiritual qualities and its environmental qualities," said Williams.
The opening reception for New England Biennial 2012 will take place Friday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., during Gallery Walk. Admission is free and open to the public. Many of the exhibiting artists are expected to be in attendance.
The exhibit will remain on view through March 1, 2013. Beyond that, it appears the New England Biennial is an idea that’s here to stay at the BMAC.
"This is definitely going to be a biennial show," said Williams.
Founded in 1972, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center presents rotating exhibits of contemporary artwork by regional and internationally acclaimed artists, complemented by lectures, artist talks, film screenings, and other public programs.
The museum’s exhibits and gift shop are open Sunday to Thursday (except Tuesday), 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Regular admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for students. Members and children under 6 are admitted free.
Located in historic Union Station at the intersection of Main Street and Routes 119 and 142, the museum is wheelchair-accessible. For more information, call 802-257-0124 or visit www.brattleboromuseum.org.