Art exhibits feature good books and flashy photos Y: John Dorsey

September 21, 1990|By Sun Art Critic

James Bailey's "Cruel Book" has a cover studded with nails, their points pointing right at you. Edward Hutchins' "Miniseries" is a book in the form of a television set. William Harroff's "10 Commands" uses pop images to demonstrate how contemporary lJames Bailey's "Cruel Book" has a cover studded with nails, their points pointing right at you. Edward Hutchins' "Miniseries" is a book in the form of a television set. William Harroff's "10 Commands" uses pop images to demonstrate how hTC contemporary life involves continual violation of some if not all of the 10 Commandments. Jane Freeman's "Flat Beer" is a book made of flattened beer cans -- actually one of the least interesting works in a largely fascinating and often funny exhibit.

"Books & Bookends: Sculptural Approaches" is a touring exhibit organized by artists Carol Barton and Henry Barrow for the Maryland State Arts Council's visual arts touring program. Most of the works are books, and that's good, because while the bookends by James Colwell, Douglas Maxwell and others are often rewarding and occasionally handsome, the books on the whole are more interesting.

Books by artists, either unique works or in limited editions, are not new, but this show brings together a lot of ideas, some of which work better than others. "The Music Box (from the Stamp Collection)," by JoAnna Poehlmann, is an accordion-like foldout that opens to reveal leaves on which there are postage stamps commemorating various musicians. These are complemented by quotes from them -- e.g., Wanda Landowska: "You play Bach your way and I'll play him his way;" Sidney Lanier: "Music is love in search of a word;" George Gershwin: "I feel a song coming on." Perfectly wonderful.

"A Peep-Show Alice," by Maryline Poole Adams, on the other hand, is an ingenious idea that doesn't quite work for the viewer. The book unfolds into a series of windows, with scenes from "Alice In Wonderland" in them, receding into the distance; it's a triumph of miniaturization, but it's so small that you can't see it very well.

One problem with these books is that they're tantalizing. In some cases one sees only a couple of pages and wants to see more. But in the dozens of works here there is much ingenuity to be admired, and considerable humor.

Among Jose Villarrubia's photographs of male (and a few female) nudes are four males from the "kitsch series," which a gallery statement says is "a homage to the physique photographers of the 1940s and 1950s and their repressed homoerotic subliminations." One of these is "Jungle Boy," a man in a leopard-skin posing strap standing in the midst of some foliage. Compare this with "Faun," a nude man posing in the midst of some vines, which is not from the "kitsch series" and so presumably we're supposed to take it seriously.

What, essentially, is the difference? The lighting and the pose are more sophisticated in "Faun," but isn't the intention of both photographs basically the same -- to put a nude in an arty setting in order to legitimize looking at him? Villarrubia's "kitsch series" nudes are cruder than his other work here, but if we accept the dictionary definition that one of the characteristics of kitsch is slickness, then the cruder ones are the least kitschy of all.

Books & Bookends When: Mondays through Fridays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends when events are scheduled in Kraushaar Auditorium, through Oct. 8.

Where: Rosenberg Gallery in College Center, Goucher College, Towson.

Call:337-6116.

Jose Villarrubia When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Oct. 13.

Where: Knight Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

Call:752-2080.

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