"Censored/Censured," a new show of diverse artworks on view at BAUhouse (Baltimore Artists United House) through Oct. 5, affords a provocative meditation on the bitter controversy surrounding the issue of art censorship.
All 29 works in the exhibit were either altered or forcibly withdrawn from the settings in which they were originally presented because of their ideologically challenging statements (either real or perceived) or, occasionally, because of their sexually explicit content.
By assembling a body of such works in a single exhibit, the intent is not to display a group of uniformly impressive pieces, but instead to provide a clearer understanding of both the artists' creative intentions and the frequently misguided perceptions of their detractors.
Accordingly, the works in "Censored/Censured" range in quality from the radiant to the mundane. Excerpts from Richard Kirstel's "Pas de Deux" (photographic silver prints, 1970) are brilliant and highly evocative studies of nude lesbian couples, while the prints produced by Katherine Kendall for Kalliope magazine ("Diana" photographs, 1988 and 1989) are solitary and gloriously poetic evocations of the fearful imagery surrounding child abuse.
The mixed media collage "Where is he now?" (1989) by Christ Lyngas is a singularly powerful work. For some, the century-old photograph of a dead infant may strike resonant chords with today's Right to Life movement (though we are assured by exhibit documentation this was not Mr. Lyngas' intention). All ruminations about the work's sociopolitical meaning, however, vanish in the face of its haunting and ineffable beauty.
Nevertheless, other pieces in this exhibit are considerably less successful artworks. The image of a man blindfolded with an American flag in Thomas A. Segars' "Patriot" (1989) is unremarkable; its execution is assured and competent, but its message so obvious that its aesthetic impact is negligible. Still others, such as Tim Kirk's "Marlowe on Olympus" (acrylic on canvas, 1983) are embarrassingly inadequate both in conception and execution.
"Censored/Censured" succeeds in that it helps the general public more fully comprehend the plight of artists who have suffered because their creative voices were made less threatening or even silenced. But in its desire to educate, the exhibit sometimes falls short of art's finest aim -- to edify with images which move us precisely because they are elusive, images to which we will return again and again.