Although contemporary sculptors have been knocking sculpture off its pedestal for decades now, it can still be a bit of a jolt to see some of the new ways they bring material together.
An ambitious exhibit at the Maryland Institute College of Art, "Critical Mass," includes sculptors from this country and Germany. Although this is a non-thematic exhibit, there are still some common traits to be found in work that otherwise is all over the map. Most of the pieces are installation-oriented, use nonconventional sculptural material that is assembled more than sculpted, comment on environmental or consumer issues, and convey a sense of sculpture as a matter of continual process rather than neatly contained high-art product.
Sculptor Lewis Alquist of Tempe, Ariz., has a piece that alerts us to its radioactive subject matter via the title, "Hot Lunch," placed next to a yellow cautionary sign for radioactive material. The sculptural piece itself is a coffin stand with a built-in motorized mechanism that raises and lowers the tabletop that serves as a covering for the coffin stand. As a significantly orange Fiesta ware plate slides from one end to the other of the table, it strikes Geiger counter sensors at both ends that ominously crackle from the impact much as they would if this plate were really "hot" and not a symbolic move.
If "Hot Lunch" is an assemblage with an environmental message, "Roll-A-Text" insists on our being part of the process of formulating whatever message we come away with. K&K Research and Development, comprised of New York architects Ken Kaplan and Ted Krueger, have made a battery-powered "Roll-A-Text" in which two rolls with different texts continuously slide past each other. The roll on the left has a number of single words like "semiotics" and "God" written on it, while the roll on the right has incomplete sentences like "is absurd" and "is the opiate of the people." There are many possible complete sentences that can form, but the sentences that line up for a split second are to some extent the ones we choose to form and remember.
If there is a definite message in those two sculptural pieces, other pieces in the show deal more with the nature of the material itself. New York sculptor Kathleen McCarthy's "Form and Capacity," for instance, bluntly places mounds of wheat on the gallery floor.
A couple of other New York sculptors are more interested in building sculptural environments. Aimee Morgana constructs atrocity-themed mini-environments inside viewing boxes, as in "The Party," whose gaudily colored Mexican Day of the Dead imagery is accompanied by a soundtrack of the Surfaris' song "Wipeout" played at half-speed. Working on a much larger, fill-the-gallery scale is Jorge Luis Rodriguez, whose installation "Oracle" deals with the folkloric religion Santeria through hanging figurative cut-outs, holy cards and other shrine-related images, and news photos of the Persian Gulf war since that is an issue over which many people are praying in their own manner.
Also exhibiting in the MICA show are George Chang of Baltimore, Edward Andrews of Boston, Peter Gaurfain of New York, two German architects and a sculptor collectively known as Formalhaut, and Bob "Daddy-O" Wade of Santa Fe, N.M.
"Critical Mass" remains in the Decker and Meyerhoff galleries of the Maryland Institute College of Art through Feb. 24. Call 225-2300.