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MICA Remembers 9/11

Mich'l Economos' "The Face of Courage: John Santore Ladder 5"

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 11/27/2002

MICA Remembers 9/11

Maryland Institute College of Art's Meyerhoff Gallery through Dec. 15

How did artists respond to the devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001? To put the question in an edgier way, how should they respond? Paintings of the World Trade Center? Metaphoric images in the spirit of the twin beams of light that shot into the air during a temporary installation at ground zero in New York? Overtly political art that engages in a debate with Osama Bin Laden? Or, asserting a carry-on philosophy, to simply continue making art as they always have?

As with the population as a whole, there's obviously going to be a range of response. You can sense that aesthetic spectrum in the nonjuried exhibit MICA Remembers 9/11, in which faculty, staff, and students at the Maryland Institute College of Art were invited to display artwork inspired by that event. For whatever reason, few members of the MICA community responded. The exhibit fills only a portion of the Meyerhoff Gallery, with the rest of the gallery cordoned off. It's beyond my powers of euphemism to think of all that empty space as room for quiet meditation.

Several works in this mini-show about a major event suggest how interesting a bigger exhibit could have been. Heading into this display, I was especially curious to find out how artists in our era of flippant irony would respond to something that seems to demand an emotional outpouring. That may explain why I was most deeply moved by one of the simplest and most direct pieces in the entire tiny show. Christopher Ruppert's untitled small charcoal drawing schematically depicts two figures hugging. Indeed, they clutch each other so tightly that their bodies nearly merge. The drawing was done on Sept. 12, 2001.

With the passage of time, artists have come up with more technically detailed responses. Michael Economos' oil painting "The Face of Courage: John Santore Ladder 5" is a smiling portrait of a deceased firefighter. It was painted this past September from a photograph and is part of an ambitious portrait-painting project in which Economos, his wife, Barbara Marcus, and other artists have been memorializing police officers and firefighters who died in New York on Sept. 11. The Santore portrait is an example of straightforward portraiture that emotionally connects on the most basic level, encouraging the thought that this young man was very much alive and now he's very much dead.

Other works done in a realistic style include Tom Symonds' ink wash drawing "On the Ground in Afghanistan," depicting an American soldier kneeling in front of the helicopter from which he presumably just exited. It's too bad there aren't more examples of how "war art" is handled by contemporary artists who have probably never before dealt with that particular artistic tradition.

Among the pieces that function on a more metaphorical level is Chris Organ's "Flag." Realistically speaking, this is a folded flag-shaped steel sculpture whose surface is painted to resemble a flag. However, the enamel paint doesn't cover every bit of surface and there are exposed rusty areas. How well our flag weathers the present trying conditions is something worth pondering in a gallery-filling future show.

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