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(Un)Konventional Kitsch!

Kristin Grey's "Kissing Cocks"

By J. Bowers | Posted 12/7/2005

At Maryland Art Place through Dec. 31. Opening reception 7-9 p.m. Dec. 9.

Kitsch is king during the holiday season. You can’t walk into a department store without bonking your knee on a garish plastic Santa—and don’t even get us started on Hampden’s 34th Street. It is only fitting that Maryland Art Place uses this time of year to mount (Un)Konventional Kitsch! a survey of Mid-Atlantic artists who know their kitsch from avant-garde.

The exhibit is pretty successful in this regard, as most of the offerings—which include sections of local installation legend Les Harris’ recently dismantled “Labyrinth at the Amaranthine Museum,” a multiroom found-object behemoth previously only available for viewing by appointment—neatly fit into MAP’s trash-as-treasure theme. The line between kitsch-inspired art and pop art is a fine one, and artists such as Mexican-born Irene Clouthier, who juxtaposes toys and other plastic objects with brightly colored, obviously false backgrounds in her digital print works, deftly blur the boundaries.

Philadelphia artist Mike Geno, known for painting sock monkeys, cuts of meat, and rubber duckies, reinvents “sign of the times” with a series of sweep-hand clocks mounted on smudgy portraits of famous people. “Yasser Arafat,” “Oprah Winfrey,” “Martha Stewart,” “Ronald Reagan,” “Kim Jong Il”—Geno’s playful portrait pieces are a veritable who’s who of American nightly news.

Of course, no survey of kitsch-art culture is complete without a few Baltimore natives—with recent work, local comic artist Beppi expands upon her charming Richard Sala-meets-Fred Wolf style, and Daniel Van Allen (an occasional City Paper contributor) continues his ongoing attempts to reinvent the mailbox with a rock-encrusted version of the common sidewalk fixture. Works by Kristin Grey, Rachelle Lowe, Gary S. Medovich, Andrew Shoenfeld, Virginia Warwick, and New York-based South Korean mixed-media maven Yunsook Park round out the roster.

A Christmas tree is also present, erected in the hopes that Maryland Art Place’s many friends, visitors, donors, and affiliated artists will deck the halls with an unconventional assortment of homemade ornaments that transcend traditional holiday décor. (Creative creations accepted until Dec. 17.) All in all, (Un)Konventional Kitsch! is an inventive show that feels festive without feeling fake—a rare feat during a time of the year when it’s hard to get people off their couches, let alone into a gallery.

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