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Mihos Takes a Taste for Kitsch All Over the World

Cat Mihos' kitschy imagery is on display at Photo Works.
Youngmi Song's floating imagery is on display at Montage Gallery.

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 3/21/2001

Swallowing Diamonds: Cat Mihos and Open Perspective: Youngmi Song

Photographer Cat Mihos has traveled the world, but it's unlikely she has found anything as exotic as the streets and people in the city where she lives, Baltimore. The recent University of Maryland, Baltimore County graduate currently has a traveloguelike exhibit at Photo Works in Hampden.

Whether she's shooting locally or abroad, Mihos has an eye for lively, sometimes kitschy compositions. She frequently uses a diptych or triptych format and occasionally scribbles captions on her prints. These tactics make her seem like an eager tourist who wants to at least suggest the narratives accompanying her travels. And like a curious tourist, she snaps a lot. There are 65 small photos in this large show.

Call it provincial pride, but Baltimore often comes off best here. "Muscle Car" is about just such an automobile, and its macho metal assertiveness is reinforced by the caption: "He made all the girls nervous." Like most of her photos, it is an unpopulated shot in which a human presence is strongly implied.

Although Mihos' tightly cropped shots of cars, storefronts, and assorted tacky objects are effective, it might be to her advantage to get people into them a bit more often. In fact, some of her most memorable Baltimore shots depict the gleefully restless natives of Paris on the Patapsco. In "4th of July," the patriotic display includes scantily clad young women wearing stars-and-stripes-patterned bras and hats. "Girls' Night" neatly captures some gal pals having a laugh (who knows, perhaps at the expense of some absent boyfriend).

When Mihos hits the road, she looks for signs--sometimes quite literally--of Americana in architecture and décor. "Shoe Repair" includes a shoe-shaped store sign in Los Angeles that has a funky charm. The media obsession and throwaway quality of our culture are captured in "Television Backyard," in which a dirt-filled L.A. yard is littered with junked TV sets. The L.A. interior depicted in "Pink Couch" is so tacky that it's a classic of its kind.

As a tourist overseas, Mihos responds to foreign places with varying degrees of success. There's a neat shot, "Mailbox, Iceland," that offers no more than a close-up of a red mailbox whose function is stated via its assertive lettering. However, what's familiar to Icelandic postal customers will seem mysterious to those who can't read Icelandic--it might as well be written in Martian. Less successful at conveying exotica are some shots taken in Paris. This is relatively conventional street photography that doesn't tell us anything new about either the city or how the artist feels about it.

After going so many places with Mihos, you may find yourself wishing she had edited her work more tightly. Not every shot holds up to close scrutiny. Also, she may want to consider going a little further with the captions, some of which are so slight and scattered that they hardly register. Why not put more narrative in her photo narratives? The show already includes one example of how photo and text can play off each other well. In "VW cross-country, Colorado," the depiction of a car stopped on the side of the road is accompanied by the caption, "Anne and I drove her VW across country. When we got out, we'd never want to get back in." The car's open door and that caption pull you into the scenario. You're encouraged to flesh out the spare imagery with some storytelling of your own.

If Cat Mihos roams freely through the global landscape, Youngmi Song finds her pictorial references in three places: Korea, the United States, and her subconscious. A Korean-born artist who has studied at the post-baccalaureate program at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, she has an exhibit of monoprints, woodcuts, and mixed-media paintings at the Montage Gallery in Federal Hill.

Although such recurring images as doors and ladders help to structurally anchor Song's compositions, her sensibility is more attuned to floating imagery than firmly fixing things in place. Other images, such as trains, suggest movement more overtly than do the doors and ladders. Then there are the outlined forms of female nudes, which seem randomly placed, as if floating around the compositions. Some of the artist's imagery is culturally specific: She references everything from Korean writing to Korean plants. It's easily blended into the mix, because her strategy is to surround representational objects with abstract washes. This approach suggests how all these influences must be floating through her dreams.

This is promising work by a young artist, but rarely does it seem compelling. So much is floating around that there is an arbitrary quality, as if Song hasn't quite arrived at the right mixture of abstraction and representation. In that same regard, there aren't enough revelatory landscape, narrative, or autobiographical references to make these prints register as strongly as they should.

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