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Family Affair

Rothschild and Daughters All Together Now at Gomez Gallery

"Degrees" by Amalie Rothschild
Untitled photo by Amalie R. Rothschild

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 10/25/2000

Amalie, Adrien, and Amalie R. Rothschild

Amalie Rothschild, Adrien Rothschild, Amalie R. Rothschild

Attribute it to nature, nurture, or some combination of the two, but Baltimore artist Amalie Rothschild produced two daughters who are themselves artists. For an intense sense of this family's artistic values, have a look at Amalie Rothschild's abstract paintings, works on paper, and sculpture; daughter Adrien's quilts; and daughter Amalie R.'s photographs of 1960s-era musicians.

The eldest Rothschild's artwork has been featured in many area exhibits over the years, but her daughters haven't had many local showings. Seeing them all together at the Gomez Gallery makes for a satisfying show.

Because of the exhibit's generational quality, it makes sense that the display of Amalie Rothschild's work amounts to an informal mini-retrospective. The first thing one sees upon entering the gallery is "Self-Portrait," an oil painting from 1939. It's the sort of straightforward realistic portraiture one won't see again in her portion of the exhibit.

Jump ahead to 1951 and the oil painting "The Quarrel," in which a pajama-clad man and a nude woman lie head-to-toe beside each other in bed. Despite their proximity, they literally do not see eye to eye. They look as if they've been quarreling, tossing and turning all through the night. Rothschild depicts their bodies in a cubistic manner, and the gray and black planes behind them likewise are reductively rendered.

You see the influence of Picasso's figuration here, but Rothschild's mature work picks up on other strands of modernism in which geometric order, mathematical exactness, and relatively simple coloration are the norm.

Although known as an abstract artist, she often includes representational references to things such as Egyptian monuments, the human figure, a moon-filled sky, and musical instruments. Rothschild's linear orientation means that she depicts such things through just a few straight and curving lines--just enough to capture their essential forms. That's why the work seems so cool, calm, and intellectually considered.

For a "landscape" example, look at the oil painting "Nocturno" (1955). It's a gridded composition whose lines and color zones remain within the realm of abstraction, yet Rothschild's color choices and placement definitely remind one of a nocturnal landscape. A moonlike orb and a few starlike dots near the top are certainly astronomical in nature. Hers is a well-ordered universe, a point she emphasizes with other works that cite ancient Greek mathematicians and other classical sources to demonstrate the logical organization of our world.

Whatever its spiritual components might be, the human body also is an impressive bit of engineering. In the painted sculpture "Personage" (1986), Rothschild arranges narrow wood slats in basic vertical and horizontal bands to suggest the body and limbs of a standing figure. One of the pleasures of this exhibit is looking at--and through--such a minimal sculpture in the center of the gallery and seeing how it relates to paintings and works on paper hanging on the wall.

Rothschild is equally schematic when it comes to rendering something like a piano. Installed side by side, the mixed media on paper "Running on Empty" (1999) and the bronze sculpture "Pianissimo" (1996) give the instrument's definitional lines and not much more. After all, a piano pretty much comes down to the black-and-white bands of its keyboard. Music, which is itself highly mathematical in nature, is a fine subject for this artist to treat.

You can see the presence of Amalie Rothschild in the art she has made from the mid 20th century to the dawn of the 21st century. If you really want to see her, stand face to face with the painted steel and wood sculpture "Ego" (1991). Its schematically rendered body and face resemble those of any number of Rothschild works, but this particular sculpture's distinctively beaked nose seems to be a telling bit of self-portraiture. If you know her, you'll know this nose.

Of Amalie's two daughters, Adrien adheres most obviously to her mother's mathematical inclinations. Adrien is a quilter, so it's not surprising that rigorous repetition plays a part in her design sensibility. Even so, geometric forms are paramount in her quilts. Specifically, Adrien relies on stacked and overlapping triangular shapes that resemble dense conifer forests. In "Autumn Into Winter" (1990) and other quilts, her shifts in coloration bring to mind a panoramic view of a wilderness landscape. As in her mother's work, Adrien's abstractions have clear representational references.

Rothschild's other daughter, Amalie R., is represented here by mostly black-and-white photographs taken at music venues including New York's Fillmore East, where she was a photographer in the late 1960s and early '70s. Rock, soul, and jazz fans of a certain age will experience a rush of nostalgia as they gaze at the close-up shots of Jimi Hendrix contorting his face and body while playing the hell out of his guitar, a perspiring James Brown proving he's the hardest-sweating man in show business, and Miles Davis appearing typically enigmatic behind big dark glasses.

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