The sights and sounds of the city are what motivated photographer Claudio Vazquez and artist Y. David Chung to collaborate on a mural and video installation called "Street of Gold." If the idea behind their project seems promising, the actual installation in the first floor gallery of Maryland Art Place seems too dispersed and undernourished.
Themselves immigrants who now live in Washington, D.C., the artists were particularly drawn to signs of the recent waves of immigration. Drawing and photography are both used in the large mural that deals with the dense vitality of urban life. There are Spanish language signs to read, a bus full of passengers to consider, and a lunch-counter crowd seen in silhouette. A lot of activity is tightly packed into this mural. Why, even the airplane seen above the action seems fat and rather close to the street action.
Other aspects of the installation -- namely, the video screens -- are placed at enough of a distance that a viewer is never truly immersed in the urban experience. We need a sense of near-claustrophobia here; instead, there is too much gallery floor to traverse.
Upstairs at MAP is a more successful exhibit, "Enigmatic Expressions," in which artists Holly Hofmann, Charma Le Edmunds, Jo Smail and Jeffrey Smith in their distinctive ways present us with images that mean a lot to them and prove puzzling for the rest of us. Happily, this is an exhibition instance where slight puzzlement makes us pause and wonder some more, rather than turning away from the artwork as if snubbed by it.
The most accomplished of the bunch is Holly Hofmann, whose large pastel drawings on paper are done in vibrant, texture-suggestive colors. In "Hushed Hour," she draws a cone-shaped form that may remind you of many things without actually being any specific thing that could be easily classified by a scientist. In her other exhibited work there is also the feeling that the tuberlike imagery is almost but not quite organic.
Charma Le Edmunds is represented by a series of small paintings with titles that refer to ghosts, ambivalence, and so on. The images of isolated cylindrical shapes and animal-like creatures comprise an imaginary bestiary, a dream zoo if you will.
Jo Smail is more concerned with the artist's personal gesture than with the enigmatic figurative image. In her acrylic painting "Thursday: Demeter's Rite or Flying Over One Bud," the thick whitish washes are broken by strokes and squiggles that seem like gestural lines traced by the artist's finger. In another painting, "Wet Honeysuckle," she relies on another method, stains and drips, to suggest how a painting on canvas can also be a matter of how the paint runs down it.
Smail's techniques are right out of the post-war New York School, but the paint application does also seem representative of the layers of her own psyche.
If one thinks about the painterly psyche with Smail, one thinks in more planetary terms when looking at the oil paintings and charcoal drawings of Jeffrey Smith. There is an untitled oil painting, for instance, in which the blue and white atmospheric top half and a black and brown, more earthy bottom half really ground our thoughts.
"Street of Gold" and "Enigmatic Expressions" remain at Maryland C Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St., through March 2. There is a
gallery talk with the "Enigmatic Expressions" artists tonight at 6. D Call 962-8565.