CP critics scrounge through Artscape’s on-site exhibits
At Maryland Institute College of Art’s Pinkard Gallery through July 31
Artscape’s Hall of Portraits crams 142 works that challenge, embrace, or cheekily destroy the conventional definition of portraiture into Pinkard Gallery with all the overstuffed, overwhelming ambiance of a county fair art competition. Seriously, you’ll be surprised that there aren’t blue ribbons fluttering on the frames.
Despite a serious case of quantity over quality, the standout pieces really do pop here, after you cut through the uneven glut of Kurt Cobain homages, fat-cheeked children, and pedestrian facial studies. Judy Simons’ “Art of the Motorcycle” subverts the stereotypical “reclining woman” into a warts-and-all hyperrealistic image of a middle-aged motorcycle chick, complete with belly pudge, varicose veins, and sagging eyes. Elin O’Hara Slavick’s “Groundskeeper, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2002” captures the beatific, genuinely touching expression of a man holding a leaf blower, closed eyes turned toward the sky. And nearby, Lang Wethington’s “Luke (with Sunglasses and Jacket)” filters Andy Warhol through Quentin Tarantino with punk rock flair.
Predictably, Hall of Portraits is at its best when pieces stray from or subvert the portrait theme—as concepts go, it’s kind of a no-brainer, so it’s more interesting to think about how less-obvious works squeezed their way under the portrait umbrella. Sculptor Desmond Beach scores another Artscape home run (there’s a piece of his at Maryland Art Place, as well) with one of his untitled, afghan-swaddled, oh-God-is-it-breathing humanoid forms.
Tom Dixon’s untitled mixed-media assembly subtly commands attention. Hunched close to the floor, his juxtaposition of a child’s chair, dirty work boots, a feather duster, a smashed pack of Camels, a beer bottle with a 1950s pinup label, and other objects provides a deliberately assembled, deeply idiosyncratic portrait of a life. Above this grouping, the piece takes a sinister turn, as the words “Choirboy,” “Altarboy,” and “Pegboy” compete with a bullet Scotch-taped to a broken picture frame and a dirty, jet-black rosary chain. The images conjure innocence and loss almost simultaneously, with an undercurrent of elementary-school nostalgia. Stephen Parlato’s “Gun Christ” collage layers glossy magazine cutouts of shotguns and revolvers into an image of Jesus on the cross, with images of shotgun shells standing in as fingers and toes. The intended message is obvious, and fairly undisturbing, but the image’s disproportionate limbs and angular features give it real visual weight.
It would have been nice to see even more envelope-pushing here, though. Ninety percent of Hall of Portraits is exactly what you’d expect—images of human faces, well-rendered and tastefully framed, and that’s nice, but it doesn’t expand upon the definition of portraiture. The show also suffers from its own scope—there’s far, far too much to take in here. But there is a giant fiberglass Speedy Gonzalez Pez dispenser, courtesy of artist Marcus Morales. Yes, really. (J. Bowers)
At MICA’s Meyerhoff Gallery through July 31
French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty defines “phenomenology” as the study of the essences of perception and consciousness. He maintained that the mind and the body must be separate, yet completely connected. Within his system, perceptions are based on both sensory experience and rational knowledge, and so judgments transcend both reason and experience.
In Phenomenology, the eclectic Artscape exhibit at the Meyerhoff Gallery, the curators specifically chose work to spark an understanding of Merleau-Ponty’s view of perception, intending it to interact with the viewer’s mind and body. The most successful work in the show slyly defies definition, mostly by transforming raw and organic materials into structures that seem to contradict their origins.
Artists Laura Amussen and Jessie Lehson both use a grid format to arrange organic material into graceful formal compositions. Amussen’s “Seep” features black bamboo poles, suspended from wires in a rectangular grid, and in Lehson’s “Dirt Floor,” four different colors of local soils have been arranged to resemble carpet squares on the gallery floor. In both cases, the evenness of the arrangement contradicts the usual way the materials are perceived, creating a new and respectful way to regard them.
Oddly organic, yet completely man-made, John Ruppert’s “River Jacks” appear to be rocks but are actually made of cast metal. The large stones appear to change as the viewer moves around and among them, with casting lines on their surface becoming more and less obvious, changing back and forth in your perception from natural to synthetic and back again.
The use of raw and apparently unfinished materials also reinforces the theme of the show, encouraging viewers to wonder why they were used. In Mark Winicov’s “Box Camera,” an open plywood box with several glass shelves, the unvarnished wood suggests a simple idea within. Upon closer inspection, the mirrored surfaces reveal neatly arranged objects and images, which can only be seen from certain careful angles. John Penny’s “Stillness Series,” meanwhile, can be easily mistaken for misplaced building materials. As you walk around the three cement blocks and striped slat of wood, units of measurement will line up perfectly and then appear to be unequal, another exercise in perception of measurement.
Less effective are the more traditional and narrative pieces in the show, which are difficult to separate from their context. The artist book, marble sculpture, and folk art, while accomplished and interesting, are all much easier to accept in an art gallery setting, so they end up diluting the line of questioning raised by the more puzzling and mysterious pieces. (Cara Ober)
Independent Gallery Pavilion
On median of 1200 block of West Mount Royal Avenue through July 18, but we figured, hey . . .
Gallery Four’s improvisatory edifice for Artscape’s Independent Gallery Pavilion is either the most blatant crotch-kick to the unfortunate, dominant exemplar of Baltimore art at these community group hugs—the quasi-conceptual, found-object materials collage, aka the slapping together of crud—or the end-all be-all of the practice that, with any luck, buries it once and for all. And that it lets each viewer decide for him- or herself which side to take makes the whole thing approach some kind of cozy comic schadenfreude, as if your best friend put rabbit-ear fingers behind your head in a snapshot. Taking its 2003 mobile-home idea a sideways step further, Gallery Four’s brain trust (designers Michael Cataldi and Pranay Reddy and building team Janine Slaker, Chris Gladora, and Nick Petr) erected a Buckminster Fuller/Paolo Soleri riff on the transient home, an Arcosanti of cardboard boxes, discarded metal, luggage, plastic, vinyl, and whatever else they could get from Baltimore’s independent gallery spaces. Cut, folded, and packing-taped together, it forms a geodesic beehive habitat for the work, though some pieces aren’t under its polygonal protection.
A Blade Runner materials rickshaw by day that Chinese-lantern glows at night, the Independent Gallery Pavilion is less exhibition area than literal big idea, a thesis—let’s do crud art, but, you know, smart and better and fun—writ with joyously caustic wit in the works. David Moré’s mixed-media “Every Annunciated Phrase” frames an array of eight old answering machine message tapes while a cardboard tube pipes in the quotidian messages to you when you’re standing in front of it, just in case you’re not getting what’s being framed here, while Heather Boaz’s “Vanishing Act”—a fog machine sometimes exhaling vapor through a ground-mounted air-conditioning duct—turns conceptual sculpture into seriocomic pun. The other works, though a tad more straight-forward—Shaun Flynn’s mixed-media “Positive/Negative Flowers,” Maggie Michael’s aptly titled “Drench” painting, and Alex Kondner’s cut mirror-and-tarp wall hangings “Dick Cheney Nation” and “Neoconservative Party Invite,” which deflate so-called political art with a Hills Snyder thoroughness—continue the jester hectoring.
This drollness draws blood in the two works outside the pavilion. Charles Foos and Bryan Savitz’s mixed-media “On Sporting” is an L-shaped “professional” gallery-white wall standing about 10 yards northwest of the pavilion itself, which proudly displays an art-student-sophisticated, quasi-realist scene of a hunt, red coated equestrians flatly depicted on horseback. And if you’re not sure just how sarcastic this piece is, Charles Miller’s “Helm” drives the sublime face slap home. Mounted along the railing of a plain wooden platform are a series of plywood rectangles in which lengths of PVC pipe are fitted, each one pointed at a nearby Baltimore skyline sight—the “House on 20th,” the “Budweiser Sign,” “The Belvedere.” And the entire time you’re rediscovering your everyday world, you give MICA your back. Kudos to these young ones for having the guts to hide something so blithely kill-their-elders in plain sight.
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