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Twin Peeks

Map’s Paired Shows Offer Slick but Limited Glimpses into Two Groups of Artists

WINGS: Ampofo-Anti’s “Mondawmin I and II” share space with Nancy Blum’s “Butterfly Wall.”

By J. Bowers | Posted 3/16/2005

Sometimes, Maryland Art Place’s tendency to view its Power Plant Live! digs as two, sometimes three adjoined galleries works wonders, creating intimate areas that draw viewers closer to the artworks on hand, and generating contrasts between otherwise unrelated exhibits. This time around, however, it’s hard to follow the logic behind what got placed where. Here, we have Beyond the Pedestal, a collection of works by sculptors from the Regional Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation enjoying acres of space in the combined front galleries, and At That Moment, I Was An Artist, an abridged survey of a multiartist ceramics dynasty-in-the-making, crammed into the much smaller back gallery.

As a result of these space limitations, the ambitious intentions behind At That Moment fall somewhat short. It’s a case of too much, too fast, and overcrowded galleries are suicide when sculpture is involved. Space concerns aside, however, there’s much to like here, even though tracing the tangled, not-quite-obvious cross-pollination between the 13 artists on offer is less enticing than it may sound.

Here’s the basic breakdown: Montana-based clay master Rudy Autio and prominent mixed-media installation artist Jim Leedy mentored figure-mad sculptor Doug Baldwin, along with a host of other students. Baldwin, in turn, became an influential professor at MICA and groomed some protégés of his own. At That Moment presents the masters alongside their mentees, in an attempt to show the scope and diversity of Autio, Leedy, and Baldwin’s influence.

And when it’s good, it’s very good, displaying a deep awareness and respect for the evolution of ceramic art, while pushing the boundaries of the form. Autio’s own “Wildhorse Island” appropriates primitive horse images from Lascaux and Crete, and reinterprets them through modern abstract stoneware, maintaining the earthy, primal qualities of clay while infusing the vessel with a certain edge. One of his artistic offspring, Linda Wachtmeister, offers “Ruffled Torso,” a rigid assemblage of bony white clay and flesh-toned latex bandages that is just as avant-garde now as it was back in 1977, despite (perhaps, because of) the work’s deteriorating state. The primitive undercurrent in Autio’s work also carries through to former student Dave DonTigny’s untitled stoneware plate, a fairly traditional, minimalist piece.

Baldwin’s 1995 “Action Painter” uses clay to create an homage to painting—specifically graffiti and Jackson Pollock-style splatter. Despite the static nature of his terra-cotta figure- and brickwork, “Action Painter” captures the kinetic energy of a painter at work in his studio with childlike charm. Local Baldwin protégé Rich Lipscher takes a more mechanical approach to the medium, using plaster-rapid 3D printers to create elaborate, elegant steampunk machinery reminiscent of H.G. Wells. Oversized ink-jet prints and an accompanying computer animation allow viewers to appreciate the full scope of Lipscher’s obsessively detailed work. Right-brained sculpture fans will delight in his precision, but to others, it may all seem a bit cold.

At This Moment takes a slight downhill turn with the work of Jim Leedy’s intellectual progeny. Quality isn’t the issue here, just the fact that many of his students emulate Leedy’s passion for large-scale installation, and a series of wall-mounted photographs attempt to stand in for their actual work in MAP’s limited space. A few works were en route as of this writing, so this part of the exhibit may yet recover. But next to the brick-solid artistry of Adam Welch’s “Infinite Reconstruction,” an ongoing installation series that casts Welch as a worker endlessly reconfiguring a supply of handmade clay bricks, the photos showcasing his peers’ works are unsatisfying and insubstantial.

Standing in stark contrast to At This Moment’s uncomfortably crowded feel, the few works comprising Beyond the Pedestal thrive in their spacious surroundings. Ghanian sculptor Ampofo-Anti strives to create work that “is in the spirit of the ancestors and yet speaks to us today,” according to his statement, and succeeds with his “Mondawmin” pieces, which recast clay as rusty metal, using interesting glazes and hard edges to articulate subconscious images. Here a roughly boarded door, there a castlelike rampart. “Butterfly Wall,” an airy installation by New Yorker Nancy Blum, features 83 white china butterflies incised with precise, mathematical patterns inspired by Islamic architecture. Blum’s use of fluorescent orange and pink enamel is tasteful, applied underneath the insects’ wings to create hazy halos of color. The overall effect is safe, yet masterful.

The front gallery is also home to the most arresting piece in the twin exhibits: Carolyn Bernstein’s sprawling “Memorial,” an installation of unglazed stoneware tubes and wooden pallets, inspired by her husband’s recent death. Bernstein’s stark river of unglazed, bone-colored pipes writhe and twist like intestines through one of MAP’s raw-edged brick doorways, blocking movement and commanding the space they occupy. Concept-wise, it’s oh so simple, but in terms of raw industrial power and emotion, “Memorial” outweighs everything else on offer—but that’s because it’s been given enough room to breathe.

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