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Learning the Trade

Annual program gives emerging curators a chance to showcase their ideas

Kim Beck's "Stuffed and Starved, with regards to Raj Patel."

By Alex Ebstein | Posted 10/21/2009

Seventh Annual Curators' Incubator

Through Oct. 24 at Maryland Art Place.

The gallery is open Oct. 22 between 5-7 p.m. for its monthly Rush Hour event.

The Seventh Annual Curators' Incubator at Maryland Art Place presents three exhibitions curated by Rachel Sitkin, Shelly Blake-Plock (an erstwhile City Paper contributor), and Margaret Winslow. The program mentors green curators as they develop show proposals into exhibitions, and this trio worked with MAP's program advisory committee to realize their shows and produce a catalog. Winslow and Sitkin present exhibitions with thematic overlaps (although different focuses), both looking at architecture and man-made environments, while Blake-Plock put together the first sound-art installation to be exhibited at the gallery.

In the first and smallest room, Winslow's Soft Spaces brings together three artists who incorporate architecture in their work. Examining the inherent formal and psychological influences of the surroundings on their craft, the three artists express nostalgia, emotion, and unseen dialogues through architectural elements. Selecting one large-scale piece each from Ronald Longsdorf and Janell Olah and three smaller works by Stephen Ruszkowski, Winslow's Spaces is impressive for its limitations and concise in its investigations. Longsdorf's "I saw our future that day" is a massive polystyrene structure that fills the entire back quarter of the room and references architectural construction and craft through a life-sized representation of a front porch. Rigged with a grid of lights behind the facade that shine through the semi-opaque foam, the piece is systematically illuminated to simulate a sunrise. Looking past the obvious command of craftsmanship and imposing scale, the piece projects the intimacy of one's home and the shared experience of that space.

A similar nostalgia permeates Ruszkowski's three pieces from his "Roofline" series. In each, Ruszkowski's mixed-media works on panel he depicts a fuzzy-edged image of roofs from (according to the catalog) historic Delaware architecture. Reminiscent of faded photographs, the images grasp at details of past structures that appear to exist only in memory and limited documentation. Janell Olah's soft sculpture also focuses on minute building details and helps to illustrate the unseen, circulatory-like systems within the walls. Her sectioned, inflatable sculpture "me trying to help you try to help me" uses the gallery's air system for inflation, and the sculpture's form and anthropomorphic buoyancy illustrates the life-like systems within the walls.

Sitkin's In Our Nature explores the tensions created by man-made landscapes, and includes five artists who use their surroundings as a springboard for imaginative, reactive artwork. The exhibited works illustrate a spectrum of unease. At opposite ends of this range, Washington-based artist Igor Pasternak playfully documents a trash-collection spectacle while Philadelphia-based painter Alex Lukas depicts the apocalyptic collapse of modern society. Pasternak's large, inflatable, happy-faced ball covered in tape and trash is an artifact from the accompanying video in which he and his wife roll it through Washington's streets, hypnotically accumulating trash and debris as onlookers laugh with, encourage, or question the couple. In his striking, large-scale painting on paper, Lukas depicts man-made structures destroyed and abandoned by their former inhabitants. Concrete walls, highway dividers, and fences are marred with ominous graffiti and other indications of a recent battle.

In Nature's thematic middle-ground, Kim Beck traces parking-lot islands in her laser-etched panels and alludes to the real-estate crisis through a series of painted cardboard boxes arranged in a small cityscape. And Laura Cooperman and Michelle Hagewood each present more decorative pieces that collage elements of the man-made landscape through different media: Cooperman uses cut paper, Hagewood produces digital prints. Together, the works illustrate a crescendo of anxiety that comes through the psychological factors of the man-made environment and the resulting environmental and economic consequences.

Blake-Plock's Art of the Set-Up attempts to present the hand-made instruments of local experimental musicians as visual pieces of art. Each artist/musician presents his or her instrument, accompanying them with photographs, video, and other non-sound materials. Inconsistently installed--some pieces sit on the floor, others on a small table or hung from the wall--the pieces look abandoned by their players rather than presented for visual appreciation. In a city where this subculture is so celebrated, it feels reasonable to put these uniquely crafted objects on a pedestal, and it would have been nice if Blake-Plock had done so literally.

Curators' Incubator continually produces smart, interesting exhibitions by curators who have, in the cases of 2004 participant Jackie Milad (former Goucher College Rosenberg Gallery curator, currently program coordinator of University of Maryland's Stamp Gallery) and 2005 alumnus Liz Flyntz (who since has been involved with the late Current Gallery), and will go on to exciting future projects. While most venues help to encourage the careers and ventures of local artists, Maryland Art Place's program helps to celebrate and encourage those people behind the scenes.

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