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Variety Show

This and That at School 33

I Am Iron Man: Adam Bradley’s "Muse Held Together With Wire, or (Idle Hands Do the Devil’s Work)."
William Niebauer’s "breezewood"
Nancy Linden's "Beale Street"

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 4/5/2000

Annual Juried Exhibition 2000

Cynthia Eguez, Frederic Van Dyk, Luis Flores

It's the nature of a juried exhibition to be a this-and-that gathering of artwork in various mediums and styles. Curated by Ashley Kistler from the Hand Workshop Art Center in Richmond, Va., the annual juried show at the School 33 Art Center is predictably eclectic.

What makes this exhibit notable is that the curator selected only seven artists from the Baltimore/Washington area, enabling viewers to get to know each artist's work in some depth. Not only are these artists well worth showcasing, but there are some interesting installational juxtapositions.

The strongest impression is made by Marcia Wolfson Ray, whose organic approach to sculpture entails bringing nature itself into the art gallery. Of course, this is nature that has been subjected to artistic intervention and reconstruction. The wall-mounted "Grid" is a woven arrangement of dried-out flower stems. Although there is a geometric rigor to most of Ray's "Grid," the artist lets the stems dangle over the edges of this carpetlike piece.

This piece speaks to Ray's overall tactic of using natural materials in a way that both respects their original appearance and reshapes them to suit her sculptural purposes. For proof, check out "Flame," whose organic materials are corn stalks and marsh grass. Cleverly constructed from tied together stalks, a tiered frame rests on the gallery floor as a hill-like support for a marshy meadow of the sort you might see gently rising up from a streambed. You're always aware of the artistic manipulation of nature here, but it's still possible to muse about a make-believe marsh made from elements of the real thing.

Nature is treated more abstractly in the six oil paintings that make up Kimberly Thorpe's "Hydro" series. The melting browns, greens, and blues create blurry landscapes in which you can barely make out the components of a rocky shoreline. Here nature seems as if it's being conjured up from memory and, thus, subject to the softening and distorting effects that memory can produce.

Human nature gets studied by Nancy Linden in mixed-media paintings in which the portraiture goes beyond merely painting figures. Newspapers, battered window frames, and worn pieces of wood also are deployed in paintings that are constructed as much as they are painted. Her collage-oriented, sometimes three-dimensional constructions amount to minienvironments. In "Beale Street," three seated old men look like they've been hanging out like this for a long time. Indeed, adjacent to their oil and charcoal portraits sit three pieces of weathered wood.

If Linden's striking portraits are supplemented by found materials, there's an artist in the show for whom found materials are even more so the building blocks of his work. Adam Bradley's sculpture "Muse Held Together With Wire, or (Idle Hands Do the Devil's Work)" is made from assorted machine parts and draped in a dingy piece of cloth. Although it has arched wings made from scrap metal and wood, this mechanical angel doesn't look ready for flight. In psychological terms, its downcast head and metal grate face make it seem rather depressed. Reinforcing this feeling is the installation nearby of Bradley's similarly constructed though much smaller "Cherub"; it sits on the floor as glumly as somebody whose flight has been canceled.

Nature and human nature are evoked to varying degrees by the above artists, but others in the show are more abstract in orientation. Daithi O'Glaisain's wood sculptures are barrierlike constructions whose smoothly cut surfaces are occasionally interrupted by rougher carving, and by dark-rimmed holes that offer frustratingly partial views into interior spaces. You have to hike around sculptures such as the wall-like "Relic from Past," and the grim little "windows" cut into the side of "Bandaged" only reveal claustrophobic black chambers.

You can interpret O'Glaisain's sculptures in structural and emotional terms, but the structural considerations are more detached in the plywood and steel sculptures by William Niebauer. Niebauer's works are also more literally detached, because his sculptures are presented as separate pieces that you can envision fitting together. The abstract plywood construction in "breezewood" has square cuts in it that seem to correspond to the five black steel cubes resting nearby on the gallery floor. There is a presumed but not actual linkage between the wood and steel components, leaving one musing about parts and wholes.

The exhibit's overall mix of materials and approaches puts Jonathan Kay's entirely abstract acrylic and mixed-media paintings in the best light. This is painting that's all about nonrepresentational forms, assertive colors and gestural strokes. Kay's work is effectively juxtaposed with the other, more directly allusive artists on view, but when considered on their own merits his paintings aren't very compelling.

Upstairs at School 33, sculptors Cynthia Eguez and Frederic Van Dyk have a show that doesn't quite live up to its potential. Eguez takes small translucent pieces of rubber and plastic and joins them together in ways that evoke both scientific and organic objects. These odd creations are then mounted in illuminated boxes, further accentuating the sense of a scientific display. This "A.I." series of sculptures and related drawings seems promising, but the exhibited items are modest enough in both number and assemblage techniques to make one wish the artist had put together a larger and more ambitious display of quasiscientific wonders.

Van Dyk is only represented by a few abstract wooden sculptures, which don't relate well visually to Eguez's pieces. His minimal alteration of a tree trunk in "Saddle" and his more intensively carved approach to the wood in "Tombstone" suggest that he's thinking through basic questions about the degree to which the sculptor will chop into chunks of sycamore. But there is too little sculpture on display, and its matter-of-fact siting diminishes it under the bright white lights that illuminate Eguez's pieces.

The Installation Space has been given over to an artist who really knows how to build an installation. Luis Flores' "Rumba Y Silencio (In Memory of Gerard Moylan Torruella)" honors a late friend by bringing together actual photographs, drums, and other possessions culled from the friend's life with artist-made assemblages that incorporate such life-affirming items as bottles and seashells. The room is bathed in a gentle blue light, and a lively but soothing soundtrack features birds, insects, and other sounds from a tropical forest. Even if you didn't know Flores' friend, it's easy to slip into a contemplative mood here.

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