Sopher show displays the fine art of satire

January 11, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Aaron Sopher When: Tuesdays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday evenings to 7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Feb. 24.

Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive.

Call: 396-7101.

Don't miss the chance to see what a treasure we had in our midst from the 1930s to the 1970s at the Baltimore Museum of Art's exhibit "Aaron Sopher: Satirist of the American Condition."

Sopher is in a way a self-contradiction: the term local artist both fits and doesn't fit him. He drew almost exclusively on the Baltimore around him for his subject matter; but in the broader sense, even the term "American," chosen by guest curator Peter Hastings Falk for the title of the exhibit and of his new book, is too confining. Sopher was a satirist of humanity at large; he reaches the universal through portraying the specific.

The dapper mustachioed man with the walking stick in "Museum No. 10" (about 1940s) is an individual we would recognize had we known him. But he's also the sort of self-absorbed person more aware of his own appearance than of the art he's supposed to be looking at. And you just know that the woman at the center of "At the Track, No. 49" (about 1940s) is the kind of person who doesn't take much off of anybody.

But Sopher can be subtle, too. The lone man standing in "At the Beach" (about 1950s) has his back to us, but we know that, while he may be a bit thick in the head as well as around the middle, he isn't arrogant or mean.

And Sopher was not only a satirist. There is the Sopher of social comment, as in "One-Room Apartment" (about 1950s). There is the Sopher of quite lovely watercolors with no satirical intent, as in "Fells and Thames Streets, Baltimore" (1941). There is the Sopher of mood pieces, able to capture the atmosphere and character of urban life in "Evening" (about 1940s).

Sopher was influenced by Reginald Marsh and the artists of the early 20th century Ashcan School, Falk points out; he lived briefly in New York until the Depression brought him back to Baltimore.

Here, in succeeding decades, he found a large following including collectors J. Blankfard Martenet and Etta Cone. They knew what they were doing.

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