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Median Cool

A Quick Look At Six Of Artscape’s Many Exhibitions

City Paper Digi-Cam™
MOTHERSHIP SHAPES: (Above)Two works from one of the two outdoor sculpture exhibitions at Artscape
THE CIRCLE GETS REPAIRED: Cory Wagner's "Big White Lie," included in Medium at Area 405
An installation view of René Trevi–o's "The Propaganda Series, Part 1" at the Baltimore Museum of Art
MARKET WATCH: An installation view of the Independent Gallery Pavilion's Quick Mart

By Bret McCabe | Posted 7/20/2005

For a full list of Artscape exhibitions and installations, see The Art in Artscape

Mothership: A Two-Part Exhibition of Portable Sculpture
1300 Block of Mt. Royal Avenue through July 24 and city-wide through Aug. 15

Outdoor Sculpture: Substantive, in material, in spirit, in idea, in form
Mt. Royal Avenue between Cathedral and Lanvale and Pearlstone Park through April 2006

These days, most Baltimoreans are a bit jaded when it comes to outdoor sculpture, thanks to the citywide Attack of the Gaudy Crabs. Curators Rodney Carroll and Hanna Fushihara Aron offer a welcome break from the crustacean invasion with two shows—Carroll’s aptly titled Outdoor Sculpture, which showcases six pieces that utilize permanent materials, and Aron’s Mothership, an assortment of portable public sculptures that moves throughout the city after Artscape.

Motorists and pedestrians cruising past Mothership might mistake the sculptures for trash at first glance. All bright colors and found materials, the works are playfully juvenile and easily accessible—kids will love this stuff, and adults will find themselves saying things such as, “Please don’t do this in our yard.” None of the 19 artists involved are trying for anything too conceptual. It almost looks like they’re trying to out-weird each other. Alex Dunbar’s “Junk Tent” is an eye-poppingly bright mass of newspapers; Bazooka Joe cartoons; dog toys; hood ornaments; old-school Nintendo components; Star Wars bedsheets; headless, sun-bleached lawn flamingos; and other suburban detritus, drenched in liberal coats of foam and fluorescent spray paint.

Shawn Reed offers three furry, multi-eyed alien creatures who graze on unraveled audio tape and yarn while they worship a tepee-like structure. Occasional City Paper contributor Lexie Macchi’s piece is a surreal and unidentifiable plush roadkill, spread-eagled on the median strip with its pink, terry-cloth tongue hanging limply to the side. California-based outfit Dynamo-Ville offers slightly deranged-looking cartoon rabbits and ducks, mounted on wooden poles—cute, but a little too familiar to make a major impression. It’s hard to say how well these works will hold up throughout the festival—the information labels and delicate materials were already suffering this past Sunday, soaking up much sun and rain.

By contrast, the sculptures scattered between Cathedral and Pearlstone Park feel like they could be permanent parts of the urban landscape, even though they’re only sticking around for nine months. Nicole Fall’s “Tree Of Life” is a towering, multicolored monument that somehow makes steel look delicate—her spray-painted webs of metal appear almost iridescent as they catch the sun. Vincent Donarski’s “Cluster of 5 Unused Shapes” repurposes rusty, discarded steel industrial components, fitting them together to create an intriguing tangle of angles and surfaces that contrasts well with its circular cement base.

All very interesting, but the star prize for sheer skill and shock value goes to David Page and JL Stewart Watson’s “Bait/Trap,” a sort of metal Venus’-fly trap clamped around giant chunks of translucent amber-colored candy, oozing gooey threads of sugar that wave in the wind. A moat of dirt and syrup has already formed around the base of the expertly machined sculpture, making it difficult to get too close, and an unsettling sweet aroma wafts faintly through the area. No struggling bugs yet, but give it a day or two. “Bait/Trap” is a fascinating object that transforms its environment by offering viewers a new experience—it isn’t pretty, but you probably haven’t seen anything like it before, and during the Summer of the Crabs, that’s downright refreshing. (J. Bowers)

Observation Deck
At the Baltimore Museum of Art through July 31

Artscape/BMA Juried Exhibition
At the Meyerhoff Gallery, Fox Building, MICA through July 31

A fresh, impish eye for ideas in the process of becoming something to say permeates the works picked both by New York artist Gary Simmons in Observation Deck at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and by Simmons and BMA Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Darsie Alexander for the juried exhibition at MICA. Running almost willy-nilly through the cracks separating purely intellectual installation and mixed-media whimsy, these two shows offer a small peek at regional artists coming at the thorny briar patch of contemporary art with a healthy dash of playfulness.

The juried exhibition is the less interesting of the two, if only because its weaker work weighs down its more lively pieces. It’s not so much that these lesser pieces—fairly straightforward two-dimensional works from Carolyn Case, Eric Johnson, Ian Jehle, and Rocyean Kim—are bad. They merely make strange bedfellows with some of the more obsessive pieces in the show. Jehle’s “Ron Jones,” a large, quasi-realistic rendering of a man in a gray suit and cap, and Kim’s “She is Lori,” a series of three Xerox-processed photo portraits, are typical of these works’ limited appeal: Both capture the eye but have nothing to offer after initial engagement.

Noah Hayleck’s “Cumulonimbus (Word Balloons 1)” is a bridge to some of the more complex ideas here. A Matthew Ritchie-esque collage of drawings and comic-book word blurbs, the piece stirs a roiling pot of gelatinous wit, even if it doesn’t cook up anything really tasty. Here is a charming universe of terse ruminations, random interjections, and non-sequitur asides, but it’s a short-lived wit.

The meticulous, obsessive layers of the piece also permeate the stronger works here, though. Jackie Milhaud’s “Doing the Same Thing” is a wall-mounted series of mundanely bizarre paper cutouts, each depicting a womanly form wearing a skirt and boots and looking as if the figure is in the process of pulling a shirt or sweater over the head—only missing the usual rounded bulge where a head should appear when something is pulled over it. And with a dense gaggle of these forms forming a sprawling hive where two walls meet like a congregation of daddy long-leg spiders, the piece instills this uncannily daft vertigo, an eerie funny.

Volume is the key to Andrew Moon Wilson’s wall-covering array of $5 drawings. Wilson put a dizzying number of scrapbook-sized sketches—random noodles, quick studies, pieces of paper junk, crud, etc.—into little plastic baggies and tacked them to the wall. Alone these would be less than boring; en masse they’re at least a hearty phoned-in joke: art dime bags.

Charman Lewis and Geoff Grace’s “A Bird Never Flew on One Wing” is the standout piece here. A cake-frosting, clay, and whisky wall painting of almost wooden-decoy awkward-looking birds, it’s an entirely artificial riff on pseudo-naturalism: These birds wouldn’t fly even if they had two wings, and the Frank Auerbach-esque roughly, thickly applied cake frosting achieves a comical intensity.

Grace’s elusive humor pervades Observation Deck as well, where three of his oddly entrancing pieces reside. And while Simmons’ introduction stipulates that the show examines vantage point in contemporary art, the works are more about skirting easy classification. Scott Berzofsky, Nicholas Petr, and Nicholas Wisniewski’s “Prate Baltimore” is a gigantic, wall-swallowing installation of ink-jet prints, foam core, and glue. A room-dominating map of Baltimore mixing over-head photos with map print-outs, the piece includes binoculars to search its expanse. It’s monolithic, but almost anything that stretched nearly to the ceiling of this large gallery space would be.

Much more fun is René Treviño’s “The Propaganda Series , Part 1,” an array of acrylic and mixed-media-on-Mylar images that are devilishly rude, hot-color keyed exclamation points. The palette is hot pink, a blushing softer pink, black, and a fabulously unashamed gold. Some prints are mere items forming repeated patterns—butterflies and floral motifs. Others feature a rooster silhouette against a background, or two men engaged in Grecian-urn athletic poses sporting rock-hard erections. Looking like Rorschach-porn wallpaper swathes for the tackiest Log Cabin Republican bar ever, Treviño’s “Propaganda Series” so cheekily defies pinning down, you quit trying to call it anything at all and just enjoy its shy audacity. (Bret McCabe)

At Area 405 through Aug. 14

Pi and ice cream, anyone? Area 405’s offsite Artscape show Medium displays a dozen works adhering to twin criteria—the circle and its rendering in offbeat material such as wine, bacteria, or motor oil. Remarkably, each artist manages to carve out a unique approach to the criteria, stocking the show with a diverse collection of sculpture, paintings, and drawings.

Carin Rodenborn’s sculptural-charcoal and motor-oil drawing “Can’t Come Clean” manages to cover all three disciplines represented in the show. Created on a broad skein of heavy paper bent into an open circle and suspended from the ceiling, the most interesting part of the work is not its showerhead imagery but the rank animal smell emanating from the oil-stained paper, a heady musk bloom that concentrates as you step inside the curved paper’s protective cowl to inspect the drawing’s bled-through reverse.

Thank goodness, however, the olfactory component of Lily Cox-Richard’s “Souvenir” goes unexplored. The work includes a half-dozen petri dishes nourishing bacterial colonies growing in unaccidental, gestural patterns—presumably “drawn” by the spit-swab-donating volunteers whose names adorn the dishes. Unfortunately, what people do with their designs isn’t visually interesting, except for “Lily,” who swirls out her name in movie-star cursive as if the agar medium were a virgin square of cement outside Grauman’s Theater, the biologic flora from her mouth sprouting in scattered spores like a name in lights. (The piece’s other components—a table littered with empty bottles and used throat swabs, photos of the tea-leaf-flecked circle seam at the bottom of a Starbucks cup—are less interesting.)

The best piece in the show is Cory Wagner’s “Big White Lie.” Wagner has laid-out freeform puddles of wet-looking white plastic on the floor in a supernova starburst pattern, like an infinite permutation of amoebas busting out in a cryptozoological Big Bang; the largest pieces occupy the center while the smaller puddles spin around the circumference. The circle is just as far as a human eye’s span, making it impossible to view the larger woggles in the center without making the tiny dots at the edges drift woozily into peripheral vision territory, creating a sinking, vertiginous jump-to-hyperspace sensation.

Some works, such as J. T. Kirkland’s trio of flat hardwood panel sculptures drilled with meticulous accumulations of tiny holes, or Dawn Gavin’s creeping wall mold of solvent-dissolved cutouts from maps of the world, are, while attractive and attentive to craft, not as rich in meaning as others. But none of the works get gimmicky or precious with their interpretation of the “non-art” material requirement, and none veer into cliché. Despite varying degrees of success, every work defends its own space and adds up to a satisfying whole. Medium is rare and well done. (Violet Glaze)

At the Independent Gallery Pavilion on the 1200 block of West Mount Royal through July 24

Once again the artist gang behind the Independent Gallery pavilion offer a jovial finger to the eye of the serious with its Artscape 2005 entry, QUICK mART. Bringing together the work, ideas, and stuff of 25 artists and artists groups, QUICK mART not only argues that the so-called art market isn’t the only place that artworks can be sold, but champions the low-market realm of disposable goods as commendable art commodities. These young artist don’t separate the fine arts from the design work that might pay the bills—see also Ryan McGinness’ work included in the Contemporary Museum of Baltimore’s Beautiful Losers. Both deserve their spot alongside celebrity tabloids and soda pop in the cultural debris that wafts through daily life.

In a quickly assembled series of rooms, QUICK mART exhibits skateboards, single-panel paintings, works on paper, prints, chalkboard pieces, rock-show posters, photos, T-shirts, a video-installation, graffiti, zines, and various mixed-media street art into a veritable bodega of ideas. It’s a winningly unserious and offbeat assemblage: At the July 15 evening opening, no items were really labeled, and the artists say that the pavilion is only in its first stage, with more works and various things to be added. The works already on view craftily capture the installation’s artist-as-manufacturer purpose: What we do is art in whatever guise it appears, from the conventional painting to the mundane T-shirt.

In fact, the T-shirts provided some of the highlights on opening night. One boasting the words “Quick Mart,” with the m scratched-through summarily, captures the pavilion’s sly spirit with its “made fresh daily” tagline underneath it. A drippy, squiggly yellow font on a brown shirt reads birdshit as if the punchline to a joke you’ve yet to hear. And on one pale blue tee, a photo of Lionel Richie is framed by hello at the top and is it me you’re looking for? at the bottom, a nonsensical pop-cult ribbing on par with the best house ads in the old Ego Trip zine. QUICK mART isn’t going to blow any minds, but it easily enlists you into its feverish attitude: It’s just art, people. Don’t get so hung up on the details.

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