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Art

Dress Rehearsal

Patterns and decoration return to Towson in this group exhibition

Emily Uchytil's "Africa"
Stephanie Liner's "Cherry Bomb"

By Martin L. Johnson | Posted 3/17/2010

Adornamental

Through March 28 at Goucher College's Silber Gallery

Pattern and Decoration, the 1970s art movement that privileged design over either figurative or abstract painting, has been undergoing a revival in Towson. After last year's Exuberant Pattern exhibition at Towson University, Goucher College's new Silber Gallery is showcasing yet more contemporary art work based on the P&D movement. Although the shows only share a single artist--Piper Shepard, whose "Daisy Wave" here further explores the possibilities of her pin piece quilts by making a quilt-like object without hard edges--they both take a similar approach to a movement that is becoming well known, in Towson at least, for being forgotten.

Many of the pieces in the show use patterns literally, such as Liz Ensz's "This End Is a Beginning, This Beginning Is an End," which uses patterned fabric as the background for an installation that was designed and built during the gap between President Barack Obama's election and inauguration. The epoxy resin and fiberglass fountain installed along the back wall of the gallery's rectangular, high-ceilinged space appears to be bubbling quietly until you realize that the basin has filled and the water is draining. What could have been a comforting cycle of water filling and emptying instead becomes a terror of things becoming too much and not enough--appropriate both for pattern, which can easily overwhelm if used excessively, and our president's fortunes. Kelly Walker's dark mixed-media paintings also show how easily you can give in to pattern's excesses. In the twin "Gestation in Pink" and "Gestation in Yellow," black pattern prints are overlaid with dark pinks and yellows, making the piece a demonstration of the limits of pattern as a structuring force.

For Stephanie Liner and Emily Uchytil, patterns are, for women, part of daily experience. Liner's three-piece pattern sculpture "Cherry Bomb" is a cross between ready-to-wear fashion object and conceptual art. The black orb-like "bomb," with a pink string extending to the ceiling, has an interior with a green, blue, and orange leaf pattern that, as an accompanying photograph shows, can hold a person. Two dummies wearing the same dress as the woman in the figure are situated nearby, and each of them is wearing high heel shoes and is attached to a curved box-like object. Liner's sculpture suggests that pattern is a shell that contains and inscribes the female body. Because the sculpture is neither fully open nor fully concealed, you have to decide how to relate to the piece.

In contrast, Uchytil's series of paintings invite you to make certain associations between pattern, memory, and place. Each 16-by-20-inch painting features common elements--a couch or bed, a window, a woman, and patterned cloth--but the settings range from Africa to the American West, from a city apartment to a small, dark room. Patterned curtains, sofa cushions, dresses give the pieces texture, as if the series was an experiment on the relationship between figures, place, and decoration. While these paintings are the only pieces in the show that could be described as realist, the surplus of patterns in Uchytil's paintings suggests experimental undertones.

While you might assume that a show tied to the P&D movement would not feature figurative work, curator Laura Amussen includes a number of artists who use the human figure as a pattern. René Treviño takes old photographs as the basis for works that reduce these images to their black and white essence. By pulling out the halftones and grays of paintings of actors and anonymous gauchos, Treviño turns full-body images into dignified stamps, suggesting reproducibility without actually turning the figures into patterns. Likewise, Xavier Schipani's ink wall piece matches the simple lines and bold execution of patterns with figurative drawing. The two totemic figures, covered with patterned badges and objects, stand guard on the right wall of the show, as if they are ready to guide you to further explorations of pattern.

The Silber Gallery is located in Goucher's new Athenaeum, which, true to the name, includes a library, lecture halls, and a café. The building's architecture is also multi-purpose, taking bits and pieces from various fads over the past decade. Part of the building is a glass cube, while another part is covered with a rust-brown metal, and a green roof gives the building environmental credibility. For those reasons, planning an exhibition that is borrowed--in more ways than one--is particularly appropriate.

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