Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Art

Bittersweet

School 33’s Annual Juried Exhibition Takes a Taste of Baltimore Art

Crowded House: Chuck Sehman's "The City" (foreground) shares space with Mike Nagrabski's drawings.

By Cara Ober | Posted 6/23/2004

Annual Juried Exhibition

Annual Juried Exhibition

Curator and author Ingrid chaffner is not an artist, but as guest juror for School 33’s current Annual Juried Exhibition, she certainly left a distinct aesthetic mark. Visiting from her post as senior curator for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Schaffner has created an exhibit that is cerebral, dissonant, and cold, yet deliciously sardonic. Her experienced curatorial carving is evident in this razor-sharp slice of Baltimore’s art scene that is intelligent and challenging. The craftsmanship and maturity of the work wavers, but even if much of the show is not immediately likable, it’s strangely intriguing.

Urban ideas, colors, and marks, darkly authentic to Baltimore, unite disparate ideas into one vision here. Earthy, rotten colors, coarse surfaces, and decaying materials create an unwavering tone: elegantly dirty and flatly ironic. As a cohesive body, the show questions the relationship between individuals and their larger culture, often stressing the smallness of a single life and the necessity of the occasional banality.

Two artists literally explore systems of smallness through aerial views of urban landscapes, both notably devoid of human beings. Chuck Sehman’s plywood constructions of swimming pools and parking lots are purposely awkward and childlike. The crude construction, with goopy glue and oversimplified lanes and parking spots, cynically mirrors suburban sprawl. In “The City,” a diorama perched on stolen plastic milk crates, Sehman’s lumpy plaster city buildings and suburban houses are equally simplistic and unappealing.

Julie Jankowski depicts aerial views of highways and stadiums in “The Meadowlands Project,” a series of dusky sepia paintings. Based on digital photos, the scenes could easily be insect hives or bodily systems, seeming both familiar and alien. The absence of realistic color in favor of faded grays and tans alludes to antique photographs, a contrived nostalgia that transforms the man-made shapes of roads and architecture into sensual curves. Jankowski’s odd renovations are both puzzling and interesting, with conflicting elements of the generic and the personal.

A sense of manufactured decay also adds to the unity of the show. Artists Lesley McTague and Alex Kondner include melodramatic piles of dusty art residue on the floor at the feet of their artworks, evidence of McTague’s working process and Konder’s materials of choice. In Konder’s “Analysis One,” colored sand forms likenesses of 1950s textbook covers on flabby rubber banners. As the “figures” age and the rubber droops, the sand drops into bright and sparkly piles, and the signs literally fade from sight. McTague’s “What have you achieved?”, meanwhile, is an elegant white-on-white installation of calligraphic lines drilled into the wall, accompanied by the leftover dust on the floor. The delicate snow of plaster chunks reveals shades of white, lavender, and pale yellow, evidence of underpainting from former exhibits. This nostalgic beauty is reinforced by painterly strokes of white plaster that the artist applied last, obscuring much of her graceful lines under thick liquid ooze. The grittiness of the dusty sediment and the quickly applied plaster, juxtaposed with flowing incised line, is reminiscent of the tragic and sagging architecture found in many Baltimore neighborhoods.

Other works in the exhibit speak to a loss of individual worth and identity. Mark Miller’s round canvases resemble huge political buttons, each with two printed words that overlap. In “WAR PIE” and “PEACE DEATH,” combinations of words create an odd meta-language where individual meanings, though readable, are lost and ambiguous. Tom Scott’s spray-painted grid systems, too, convey an idea of overall largeness that dwarfs the individual scale, but in an incidental way. By layering different types of lattice and then spraying them in a range of colors, the artist builds his work with the strict geometry of an urban housing grid or circuit board. Joyful drips and bold stripes contrast with this strict composition, though, humanizing them into playful expressions.

The most interesting choice of work included are the drawings of Mike Nagrabski, in which the Senator Theatre, Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop, Memorial Stadium, and other local landmarks are rendered in a naive form of linear perspective. Obsessive documentation of each brick and symbolic, coloring-book-style coloring create sentimental versions of the locations, but without the irony found in the other works. Despite their different aim, these drawings make perfect sense within the context of this show: The same emptiness and distance pervades the scenery, reinforcing the exhibit’s themes of detachment and isolation.

Under Ingrid Schaffner’s hand, this year’s Annual Juried Exhibition assigns value, raises questions, and defies assumptions about contemporary art, creating a range of challenging work that is unique to Baltimore. And in the end, it delivers a bittersweet, albeit acquired, taste.

Related stories

Art archives

More Stories

Super Art Fight (7/14/2010)

Quick Sketches (7/14/2010)

Unnatural Wonders (7/7/2010)
Soledad Salamé's works become more persuasive through distortions

Comments powered by Disqus
Calendar
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter