Show featuring artists active in '50s is a blast from the past


November 06, 1990|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Do you remember, dear, when there was art at the lake in Druid Hill Park and in the lobby of the Playhouse Theater, when the Peale Museum had "Life in Baltimore" shows, when Morris Louis came over from Washington to teach art in his home town, when art critic Kenneth Sawyer was trying (and mostly failing) to get Baltimoreans to buy abstract expressionism?

If you remember, dear, then you're not much older than I.

If you remember, dear, you'll like "Back from the Future: Maryland Artists 1950s-1980s" at Maryland Art Place (through Dec. 22). Even if you don't remember you may well like it, for it brings together the work of 34 artists active in Maryland in the 1950s and some of them were very good.

Jacob Kainen's colors that float on the canvas like veils, the surrealist-inspired abstractions of Keith Martin, Herman Maril's elegant atmospheres, Norris Embry's psychological ruminations are among the works that remind us just how good artists working in the area back then could be.

The abstractions of Gladys Goldstein, the realist paintings of Joseph Sheppard, the Moore-like sculpture of Frieda Sohn, the Matisse-like sculpture of Reuben Kramer, the quiet streets by Jacob Glushakow, the weird procession by Joan Erbe, the spectrum shown here from very traditional representationalism to non-objective art, remind us that the local scene wasn't as monolithic as we might suspect, looking back from our pluralistic age.

Nor need we be overly nostalgic about those years. If artists felt closer to the Baltimore Museum of Art then, and they did, they were also forced to show their work in movie houses, in bars and on park fences because there was a dearth of commercial galleries and no MAP, School 33 or BAUhouse. The Maryland Institute had nowhere near the reputation it has now, and there was no School for the Arts.

If the art scene was less lively, the artists represented here were committed, professional and talented, some of them extremely so. It's not always possible to tell, however, just what they were like in the 1950s from the sometimes strange selections of curator John Blair Mitchell, who was on the scene then as now.

While Amalie Rothschild, Bennard Perlman, James E. Lewis and others are represented by earlier and later works, it's odd, for instance, that all three Keith Martin works are from the 1970s, all three Rita Genecin works are from the 1980s, Liz Whitney Quisgard's two canvases are from 1988 and 1989, Norris Embry's three works are from 1979 and 1980.

Still, the show was a good idea, there's some fine work in it, and it's complemented by a video of eight artists talking about the past and a corner installation by Eric Miller with furniture and other objects from the 1950s including tables by Noguchi and Saarinen, chairs by Eames and Bertoia. Fun.

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