Three-dimensional wall art is not exactly a new idea. As George Fondersmith, director of the Life of Maryland Gallery and curator of its new show, "Off the Wall," points out, "Sumerians, as early as 3100 B.C., ornamented their buildings with friezes."
A theme to pull a show together never hurts, and this one includes artists who work in different styles and media and whose creations are three dimensional but hang from the wall. Most of these pieces are either abstract or otherwise contemporary in spirit, resulting in a show that is, happily, less conservative than one expects of this gallery.
Disappointment lies in the fact that too many of the nine artists included have too little to say, so the show as a whole proves less successful than it sounds. But it is saved by two artists of genuine interest, both well represented.
Eric Miller's figures, made of reeds, yarn and various found objects, have something of the look of religious objects, as their titles confirm: "Street Idol," "Quito Goddess Pointing," "Spirit Figure." But their materials, including tin cans and roller skate wheels, inject a note of humor, there is considerable humanity in some of them, and Miller's sure sense of color reinforces their strengths.
"Read Cult" is essentially abstract, but "Street Idol" has a jaunty personality, and "Spirit Figure" combines a somber cross shape of reeds tied with jute in stripes of color with an endearingly deadpan face. Miller's work brings this show to life.
Gagik Aroutiunian creates landscapes of abstract surrealism, if that is not a contradiction in terms or even if it is. One can identify topography and light in them, but their surfaces look alien, as if once-familiar objects had changed beyond recognition.
The two "Diary of the Traveler" works incorporate bones and shells, the two "Old Land" works add delicate metal contraptions. The former look like the face a desolate Earth might present to arrivals from another world, while the latter look like other worlds that refugee Earthlings might approach in space ships made of scraps left over from Armageddon. Without being at all specific, Aroutiunian's works leave the impression that they somehow deal with the fate of us all.
The Baltimore Life Insurance Co. operates the Life of Maryland Gallery in its 901 N. Howard St. building. Joseph E. Blair Jr., Baltimore Life president, said yesterday through a spokeswoman that the gallery will move with the company to its new corporate headquarters about the end of 1992.