Those that Teach, Do
Nemett's standard-sized artist's sketchbook is filled with pencil drawings that capture the world around him. There are portraits, self-portraits, landscapes, architectural studies, copies of works by other artists such as John Frederick Kensett and Jean-Simeon Chardin, and Baltimore scenes including the Shot Tower.
You can see Nemett working variations on certain themes, as in a series in which polelike tree trunks and leafy canopies vary in forested density from one drawing to the next. Far from being hasty sketches, they're sufficiently detailed to suggest an artist following through on different pictorial options. Implicit in such drawings is how Nemett as a teacher oversees students whose education amounts to pursuing the same process.
Because an artist's sketchbook tends to be idiosyncratic in terms of subject and style, one dons white gloves and turns Nemett's pages in search of biographical insights. Perhaps the most affecting sketch depicts the imposing columns and a flanking stone lion at the front entrance of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Not only does the sense of grandeur emulate how such a classical building would impress a child, but Nemett accompanies the drawing with a hand-written text recalling museum visits he made with his children years ago.
While Nemett's drawings need to be discovered page by page, almost all of the other art greets you very directly. As one expects from this annual exhibit, such faculty members as painters Grace Hartigan and Raoul Middleman can be counted on to have visually arresting pieces that warrant a long look. Likewise, this show has its usual range of media suggesting MICA's varied instructional offerings.
Although this year's edition doesn't seem to have as many individually exciting artworks as some other years have offered, there's enough to hold your interest. A good way to take in such an exhibit is to imaginative yourself in a student's shoes, even if it's been years since you wrote a tuition check. What can you learn from all this faculty-made stuff? Do you want to draw trees like Barry Nemett's or do you have other lines in mind?
Student painters could learn a lot by parking in front of faculty member Michael Economos' oil painting "Components of Desire." It's a large diptych depicting one man and five female figures. Some of the women are standing, while others suggestively recline; the latter overtly evoke the art-historical convention of the odalisque. These big-breasted beauties are rendered with assertive colors and spontaneous, raw brushwork. Only one of the women has a fully finished face, while the others are bodies whose come-hither contortions express generic rather than individualized sexuality. There has been a lot of theoretical writing about the male gaze in art, and such a painting should prove a useful supplement to textbook discussions.
Among the issues faced by every artist--and certainly by young artists--is deciding whether to respond to the world through abstract or representational means. Of course, it's not always quite so reductive a matter, as at least two of the exhibiting faculty members demonstrate.
In Connie Adams' watercolor "Croton Arabesque," that plant's thickly veined leaves are vibrantly colored with shades of purple, red, blue, green, yellow, and pink. These overlapping, riotously bright leaves give a realistic sense of a croton, but they also verge on abstraction. Very different in appearance but similar in raising questions about realism vs. abstraction is Karen Gunderson's oil painting "Ronald." This is an all-black painting in which the portrait head can be discerned only through shifts in surface texture. Basically, the face is smooth and the background is brushier. You can make out a realistic face, but it wouldn't take much to make this a complete abstraction.
Other artists in the exhibit clearly adhere to either realistic representation or abstraction. For documentary fidelity, look at two black-and-white photographs that both present architectural decay: Glenn Shrum's "Weathered Base" is a tightly cropped shot of a building column from which most of the paint has flaked off, while Regina Deluise's "Balcony and Broken Shutters" is a moody shot worthy of the cover of a Tennessee Williams play.
For abstraction pure and simple, look at Timothy App's acrylic painting "Pinion," in which precision and calm rule thanks to the geometric abstraction of the composition and a palette that doesn't go much beyond planes of black, white, and gray.
Of other media on view, the most distinctive piece was collaboratively created by Annet Couwenberg and Katie O'Meara. Their beautifully crafted "Das Boot" relies on traditional construction methods to make an Aleutian-style kayak out of wood, flax, and canvas. I have no idea how well it would hold up on the open ocean, but it looks great on the gallery floor.
Creative Proof (7/14/2010)
Documentarian Steven Fischer pushes artists to talk about what makes them make art
The Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize 2010 (7/7/2010)
Quick Sketches (6/23/2010)
Paul Darmafall (11/5/2003)
Home Turf (7/23/2003)
Artscape's Exhibitions Have the City Covered, Inside and Out
Lorry Salcedo (6/4/2003)
Photographs of Peruvian Mummies at the Gomez Gallery through June 21
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