Recently, both the Maryland Federation of the Arts in Annapolis and the BAUhouse in Baltimore chose curators from Richmond, Va., to act as jurors. Both produced interesting shows.
At the BAUhouse's "Baltimore Artists' Exhibit" (through Aug. 9), an introduction by juror Julyen Normen, director of the 1708 Main Street Gallery in Richmond, cites parallels between the two cities: Both have art schools, are relatively inexpensive and are close to East Coast art centers -- "resulting," he writes, "in a large and energetic contemporary art community in both cities."
It is also possible to note similarities between the Baltimore and Annapolis shows. As in Annapolis, the Baltimore show is distinguished by forceful images that invite emotional interaction between viewer and art. They're not all ultimately successful, but you know you've seen them.
And the BAUhouse show, like the one in Annapolis, reflects everything from political, environmental and social concerns (e.g., Matthew Lawrence's "The Messiah" and Dorcas B. Kraybill's "Eight-Point War Stars") to more intimate, personal, psychological works (Thea Osato's "Shy People" and "Thick Love"). Especially noticeable here, however, are three artists' works that imply much more than they specify.
Ruth Pettus' paintings of men in ordinary situations ("The Handshake," "Three Men") are fraught with mystery and a vague but unmistakably unsettling atmosphere. Part of this is due to her paint handling, which has a dynamism and tension of its own. But her figures are presented in such a way that each seems to be at once interacting with the others and totally alone. Is Pettus commenting on men (that they're duplicitous or reluctant to commit themselves or just reserved), or is she saying something about human alienation, or both and more? Pettus' paintings suggest layered and veiled meanings.
So does Elisa Abeloff's one work here, the mixed media "An Individual Error of Space." This multiple-scene work, with its pastel-like colors and ambiguities of space, has many antecedents, from photographic montage to altarpieces and the domestic interiors of Vuillard. It equally suggests both theatrical drama and literary narrative, and, like Pettus' paintings, that something of significance lies hidden beneath what we can see.
Catherine Jones' "The Runner IV" is more explicit but no more revealing than Pettus' and Abeloff's images. The fleeing figure and the unnaturally bright, glaring, hot colors clearly indicate terror -- but of what? This might be a figure running from the bomb, or we might have stumbled into the middle of a nightmare.
Here's an idea: What about an exchange of shows between vTC Richmond and Baltimore? (It's not exactly a new idea -- in 1984 the two cities participated in a three-way exchange that included Washington.) If there are indeed similarities between the two cities' art communities, maybe it's time each found out what's happening on the other shore of the Potomac.