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Catalogues, Collections, and Memories

"Courtney," by Bonnie Biess

By J. Bowers | Posted 5/10/2006

Catalogues, Collections, and Memories

The Rental Gallery

Through May 26

The Rental Gallery might just be Baltimore’s first legit fly-by-night business. More a concept than an actual brick-and-mortar gallery, Rental is a fledgling nonprofit curatorial group that sets up art shows in vacant commercial spaces, providing exhibition venues for emerging and midcareer contemporary artists while utilizing real estate that would otherwise remain vacant—a win-win proposition for realtors looking to show off their available properties. The group’s debut show, Catalogues, Collections, and Memories, is mounted in a bright and charming Mount Washington storefront, clearly labeled and easy to find from Falls Road. It would actually be a decent permanent space for an art gallery, if that’s what the Rental folks had in mind.

The art on offer is equally decent. David Page’s “Escape” is an installation composed of oversized orange shoes made of dirty felt and canvas, linked together with a thick length of rope. The rope snakes across the floor and into a window frame in an attractively messy way, making excellent use of the gallery space. It’s hard to tell exactly what Page is getting at, but the sculpture adds an element of surprise to a show mostly made up of typical wall-mounted photographs and paintings.

Sara Baicich’s “Dr. Nevin’s Family Reunion (this won’t hurt a bit)” is a series of 30 digital prints that depict the insides of people’s mouths, strung together with ribbon to resemble vertical braces. Gross where it’s meant to be clever, this series is less than compelling.

If Baicich’s images don’t make you queasy, curator/artist Judy Sellman’s installation “28 Years of Slough” probably will. Billed as “28 years of physical being that has been washed down the drain or ended up in a landfill,” the piece catalogs Sellman’s shed hair, teeth, fingernails, skin, breast milk, and menstrual blood, showing the disposability and constant deterioration of the human body. Photographs of Sellman’s various effluvia are presented on clinical white backgrounds, with legends like “153 mos. equal to loss of 3.7L-9.1L of blood shed, 2295 tampons used.” There’s also a toilet overflowing with handmade replicas of these 2,295 tampons, “made from paper and body sloughings.” Interesting, yes, but also disgusting. Thanks for sharing.

Bonnie Biess’ series of self-portrait photographs reveal the artist playing dress-up, disguising herself as various female pop-culture personalities, including Yoko Ono, Courtney Love, and the obligatory Marilyn Monroe. It feels odd that Biess contextualizes all three of these women by placing them literally behind their famous paramours—the photograph of JFK next to “Marilyn’s” settee, for instance, or the photo of Kurt Cobain and his infant daughter in the foreground of “Courtney.” The long, ruined hanks of just-cut blond hair on “Courtney’s” kitchen floor are a much more telling detail, and less trite.

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