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Dangerous Books: Pushing the Pop-Up

“Wick-ed” by Jonathan Maxwell

By Ruth Reader | Posted 7/19/2006

Curator J.W. Mahoney corrals nine local artists and a Swede for Dangerous Books: Pushing the Pop-Up, Area 405 gallery’s 2006 satellite Artscape entry. While Dangerous Books does push the limits on artistic uses of words and dimensions, don’t be misled by the title. Each artist has expanded upon the idea of pop-up books, but some of the work is out there.

The vast concrete warehouse studio, with its wooden beams and remnants of past uses, can leave you wondering where the exhibit begins and ends. James Vose, artist and part owner of the 405 building, displays a sculpture well-suited to be installed in the belly of an old warehouse ripe with red-rusted machinery. His set of large, rounded, metal shears resembles a stainless-steel horseshoe crab. The Maryland native’s work is often informed by industrial metals and equipment, taking on the appearance of tools. The metal provides a nice edge for the shears—and, according to the artist, they actually work. While it’s a satisfyingly engaging, it strays from the idea of pop-up book—or a book at all.

Just as thematically obtuse, Jonathan Maxwell portrays Baltimore’s cityscape in ruddy browns and dripping grays. In his three works—“Harvest,” “A D M,” and “Wick-ed”—he combines steel, rusty nails, and heavy skylines to portray this port city. When the artist lived across the street from an old ExxonMobil tank farm, sunflowers were the only plant that would grow in the oil-wrecked soil, and Maxwell dots his works with sunflowers, providing a contrast between his dismal blue-collar spaces and natural beauty.

The show includes more than mementos of Baltimore’s laborers and stock yards; political and social commentary lurk in some of the works that also hew closer to the show’s theme as well. Jewelry maker Lauren Schott subtly pokes fun at American oil obsession and cowboy pride in “Spit and Swagger,” a wallet that opens to reveal a pop-up oil well. For “Little Boy, Fat Man,” Julianna Dail shaped the hard cover of a Harry S. Truman biography into a detonator and cut biographies of the president into sentence-thick strips to create a mushroom cloud of text. And Barb Bondy attempts to explain thought processes through tangram-like shapes in “Diagram for All Solutions.”

Equally quirky is Jens Westerberg’s “The Danger of Reading.” Westerberg graces the Baltimore art scene from his post in Sweden, contributing a film addressing the pop-up. A man reads Swedish poetry amid roaming sheep puppets and independent words appearing on screen at random, sometimes mocking the speaker.

The show’ wiliest inclusions are the free books scattered on lopsided bookshelves in the back of the gallery space. The Baltimore Book Thing supplies Area 405 with plenty of freebies for the duration of the exhibit.

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