Goya-Girl's National Show Chases Down the Sharpest Works on Paper
This juror's eyes are distinguished, too, in that they belong to Baltimore Museum of Art director Doreen Bolger. In selecting 10 artists from among more than 1,000 eyestrain-inducing slide entries, she clearly had a sense of what would make her personal cut. Whether working in prints, drawings, watercolors, photographs, or other media, the artists who made it into this exhibition mostly favor abstractions done in black and white.
Seen together, their works create a rigorous calm that fills the gallery. Even the pieces that incorporate stylistic verve are well-behaved here. It all makes for a smartly cohesive grouping by national juried exhibition standards, though I found myself wishing at least one or two pieces had been unruly in a more boisterous way.
Bolger seems particularly interested in artwork that accommodates both structure and spontaneity. Seen from a distance, for instance, Washington state artist Betty Merken's monotype "Epic0589" is a diptych depicting a harmonious balance of black and white zones. Upon closer inspection, that geometric precision is still there, but you notice that the white zones are a dirty hue with some downright dark patches lending irregularities to otherwise uniform surfaces.
The finest example of this kind of well-ordered impulsiveness, though, is Maryland artist Kathryn Schultz Norris' pastel and watercolor "Cascade." In terms of form, it's just a rectangle with a smaller rectangle inset at a diagonal angle. But the entire outer form is covered with a dense thicket of black, gray, and rust lines. It lends the impression of the artist having drawn a few precise shapes and then scribbling inside them. Dispensing with the background form, meanwhile, Wisconsin artist Jason Terry's charcoal drawing "Intuition Series #21" is a wild tangle of lines. A relatively empty vertical space at the drawing's center perhaps is meant to function as a Barnett Newmanesque "zip," both breaking up the composition and providing a meditative void.
More restrained in method yet sharing the same spirit, Maryland artist Carol Miller Frost's pastel drawing "Summer House Series #4" features a centered solid black bar flanked by thin vertical lines. These repetitive strokes are so gestural that they call attention to the act of drawing as much as to the finished product.
With so many lines both straight and tangled in these pieces, it's a change of pace to see a work that follows only the meandering path taken by a single line. In this case, it's "Enmeshed," in which Swiss-born artist Ula Einstein's has woven a thread through a sheet of paper. Although the resulting form made by the line is rather shapeless, it does incorporate four distinct triangles within the arbitrarily defined whole. So it doesn't take an Einstein to realize that "Enmeshed" follows through on this exhibit's pursuit of form-and-formless combinations.
And it logically follows that some artists would go for forms that melt into formlessness. Michigan artist Sung-eun Lee's "Amnesia" is a gridded arrangement of 100 charcoal drawings in which clustered white orbs are so fuzzily defined that they seem like they're immersed in as much as set against a black background. Such a fluid reading is reinforced by Lee's accompanying tape recording of her blowing bubbles underwater. The drawing has an agreeably calming effect, but the never-ending tape of gurgles got me to the vexing point where I would have confessed to anything. The sounds don't enliven so much as irritate.
On the whole, this exhibit is so decidedly abstract that you can't be blamed for wondering if there's any appropriate place for figurative work here. Actually, there is. Maryland artist Michael Fleischhacker has two black-and-white photographs of a female model named Jeannie. Her nude body and pensive face are easy to read, but there is a murky haze that both backs and partly obscures Jeannie in this studio-set shot. She is a form that's losing its definitional edges.
And perhaps the most memorable piece in the show is Pennsylvania artist Keith Sharp's black-and-white photographic diptych "Scales," from a series called "Same While Different." One photo depicts a shingle-covered house, the other a scale-covered fish. These are crisply lensed, scale-reliant forms whose surprising juxtaposition makes formal sense. Let your eyes wander from the house window to the fish eye and you'll understand what appealed to Doreen Bolger's curatorial eyes.
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