'Critical Mass' works stimulate and challenge the imagination

January 29, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

"Burea-Dicto," from the artist team that goes by the name of & K Research and Development, is as cryptic as its title but in its own way handsome, and either threatening or sad, depending on how you take it.

It consists of two parts -- one winglike and the other resembling a miniature diving bell -- and it emits low moaning sounds, as of a creature trying to communicate but not succeeding. It's handsome in its counterpoint of gray-colored, organic- and geometric-looking parts. It could be, perhaps, symbolic of the battle between nature and the military-industrial complex. It could represent the last moaning sounds of machines of destruction running down after man has killed himself off with them. It could represent vessels of invasion from another world. Viewers will no doubt think of numerous other possibilities, for it activates the imagination.

And that's generally true of the exhibit "Critical Mass" at the Maryland Institute's Fox and Mount Royal Station buildings (through Feb. 24): Parts of it may be confusing, but it's nevertheless challenging.

Described as "a non-thematic survey of multidimensional works illustrating a wide range of styles, techniques and materials," it // certainly does that. It includes everything from traditional sculpture as represented by Peter Gourfain's "Panels from a Door for the Earth," a series of bronze relief sculpture panels like those of Ghiberti's baptistery doors in Florence, to multimedia installations by Edward Andrews and the collaboration known as Formalhaut.

If some are cryptic, others range from amusing to horrifying. In the former category is K & K's "Roll-A-Text," two cylinders revolving in opposite directions with parts of texts written on each. One can match up "Necessity" on one cylinder with "is the mother of invention" on the other, or "I" with "am not a crook"; but it's more fun to let them spin by, offering unexpected combinations like "Adultery . . . is the mother of invention" or "Old golfers . . . go better with Coke." This has its serious side, too, suggesting there may be as much meaning in chance as in the chosen juxtaposition of words.

In the horrifying category is one of the four audiovisual boxes of Aimee Morgana. Looking into "The Tomb" one sees a skull in the midst of mummies, rats and clutter, as music plays and a digital clock ticks off a minute's worth of seconds over and over. Imagine dying and waking up in there for the rest of eternity.

Gourfain's panels, dealing with the destruction of nature by man, are telling in their straightforward manner. Bob Wade's "Chameleon," an oversized reptile sitting on a branch and zapping a fly on the wall with an impossibly long tongue, may or may not have meaning but it's a treat anyway. So is George Chang's compositionally inspired "Miracle of Life," involving a chain of locks, a bamboo pole, sets of weights placed on a circle of tiny braided rugs on the floor, a surfboard and diving board -- one of the most visually satisfying works in this stimulating show.

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