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By Violet LeVoit | Posted 3/1/2006

That question mark in the show’s title is there for a reason. Curator Jackie Milad (co-founder of Transmodern Age, the annual arts festival that began as an exploration of “otherworldly adornment”) has turned her attention from “otherworldly” to “otherwise” wearables in this five-artist show at Goucher’s Rosenberg Gallery.

The first thing you see upon entering the gallery is an unbroken spaghetti line of what looks like white plaster affixed to the wall, curling in cerebral cortex folds and dotted with rough dollops at occasional intervals. This is Klaus Bürgel’s “Kudzu,” a title that doesn’t shine much light on the work (or the show’s theme), except to reflect that kudzu adorns trees and this adorns a gallery wall, but in that case, how is this adorning a wall differently than any other work of art? Arthur Hash’s “Brooch Installation,” an accumulation of palm-sized black silhouettes dotting the wall like poppy seeds, fares better. Each silhouette is a frozen, candid, sometimes gestural pose of someone unique, a precious memento of someone special—or, maybe the black vacuum left by their departure.

The two most exquisite works in the show are Leyla Tas’ similarly titled “Brooch” and Kirsten Rook’s “The Smiledentity Project.” In “Brooch,” Tas skewers identical torsos printed on milky plastic with acupuncture constellations. Peering around the other side reveals the pins holding ornate metal forms in place, lacy starbursts and chrome death’s-heads suspended beneath the skin like tattoos no one will see. The work’s high attention to craft and gothic melodrama impress considerably.

The equally compelling “The Smiledentity Project” (pictured) plays with ideas of facial recognition by casting dental impressions in shiny chrome and dangling them from wire loops like pendants. Hanging them several feet above eye level seems counterintuitive from across the room (why so high that the viewer can’t see them?), but craning one’s neck up directly underneath allows one to see the grinning U of metal orthodonture smiling down, the crevasses and crags of imperfect teeth easy to match with photos of the source smiles displayed below. Due to dental records’ forensic usefulness, these necklaces certify the wearers’ identities while beaming goodwill at the same time. The castings are beautiful, and perfectly illustrate the slippery paradox of the show’s stated theme.

In fact, the excellence of Tas and Rook’s pieces reveals how thinly populated the show is. Granted, not many artists make “adornment that’s not really adornment,” but scratching “Smiledentity” and “Brooch” from the inventory leaves a too-vague, too-small grouping of just OK work, when a more jelled articulation of the show’s theme is what’s required. More of the good stuff, and you could strike that “?” in favor of “Adornment!”

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