Much of Baltimore turns out for Artscape every summer, and so it seems appropriate that one of the five visual arts exhibits opening this weekend comments so directly on life in our city.
"Baltimore Scapes: Images of Baltimore -- Physical, Mental, Cultural," curated by Schroeder Cherry, is installed in the third-floor Thesis Gallery at the Fox Building of the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Its rather clumsy title notwithstanding, the show is an interesting gathering of mediums and styles. If the representational work is generally more effective than the abstract work here, there's something to be said for presenting images of Baltimore that just about every Baltimorean can relate to.
Some of the most evocative art exhibited here speaks to a Baltimore that is leaving its blue-collar identity behind, as in Barbara Traub's black-and-white photograph "Nostalgia -- Koppers," which depicts a wrecked industrial shed. In the same photographer's "Train Ferry Ramp -- Boston Street," the richly brooding shades of black are reminiscent of harbor shots taken decades ago by A. Aubrey Bodine.
That same atmospheric sensibility can also be used to emphasize Baltimore vistas that never change, such as Frank Rehak's untitled black-and-white photograph of the deeply shadowed portico of the Basilica of the Assumption.
This exhibit also, in casual fashion, enables viewers to compare how artists approach their neighborhoods. In Barbara Young's cibachrome photograph "Tree in Fell's Point," the spare composition centers on a tree that is no more than a dead trunk. Just as Young keeps us in that stark, narrow alley, Crystal Moll in her oil painting "Back Side" prefers to look at old row houses from the alley side, where utility lines crisscross an otherwise picturesque scene. Looking at row-house living from the front of the house, if you will, is Leslie Wies, whose photograph of a
"Fell's Point Tree" is loftier than Young's view.
A particular pleasure in a show like this will be for thousands of visitors to be able to say: I know where that was made. A few examples are Bill Tamburrino's oil painting "East From Druid Hill," which shows bridges crossing the Jones Falls Valley; Charlene Rene Clark's oil painting "Etta Gown Shop," which accentuates the decor of this East Baltimore bridal institution with such visual accents as a purple telephone; and Betsy Kirk's pastel on board "The Block," which presents a cop, dancer, doormen and other Block denizens who may have to find another haunt if the city goes ahead with its plans to phase out this tawdry strip.
The more socially pointed artwork here includes Jennifer La Chapelle's oil painting "Play Bingo Honey, Win Big Money!," unconventionally done on an army stretcher leaning against the wall. Shown with near-folk art bluntness is a woman playing bingo, with a lotto sign behind her. It's hard to get ahead in this city, the artist seems to say, and so people turn to gambling their way toward what they hope will be a better future.
Among portraiture, consider Keith Tishken's black-and-white bTC photograph of director Barry Levinson illuminated by the fireworks set off for a scene in "Avalon," and Sara Glik's black-and-white photo "Preparation for Dinner, Bea Gaddy," which shows that kind-hearted woman smiling in the kitchen of her East Baltimore soup kitchen.
A second Artscape exhibit, "Fiber: the State of the Art," curated by Rebecca Stevens, is mounted in the first-floor Meyerhoff Gallery of the Maryland Institute's Fox Building. Stretching fiber definitions, the exhibit includes Linda Bills' "Armor Kimono, In Time," in which white pine bark is bent and woven as if it were the cloth for a Japanese outfit, and Sylvia Benitez-Stewart's "Mud Dog," in which sisal rope is woven together and covered with dirt to make a sculptural (and very dirty) dog.
Other work in the exhibit reminds us that even the quilted tradition moves forward, as in Elizabeth Talford Scott's bright "The Quilt," with its applied buttons conveying how cloth can serve as the backing for so much more. Likewise, Dominie Nash's "Two Solitudes" is a fabric collage in which the dye functions like paint in an abstract painting.
"The Mythic Vision," an exhibit curated by Richard Kalter and Alma Roberts on view in the Decker Gallery of the Maryland Institute's Mount Royal Station Building, becomes diffuse and a bit uneven from the extreme variety of poetic visions on display. Some artists work within the tradition of sacred shrines, such as Osvaldo Mesa's "Shrine for Dead Brothers" and Sam Christian Holmes' "Ms. Hutchison's Closet," while others tap into the unconscious, as in the blending of neoclassical figuration and surrealist landscape in Shawn Elizabeth Bartsch's oil painting "Persistence of Memory."
Because Artscape has often been criticized in the past for having most of its art indoors and not enough outdoors, it's refreshing this year to have two ambitious outdoor exhibits. Although "A3," curated by Lisa Lewenz and Steve Ziger, and "Neutral Ground," curated by Richard Ellsberry, were not completely installed at the time of review, both looked promising.
Indoor gallery hours for Artscape visual arts exhibits are Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. There is also an outdoors crafts exhibit this weekend. Hours for the indoor exhibits from July 22 through Aug. 11 will be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Most of the outdoor installations in "A3" and "Neutral Ground" are also expected to remain up through Aug. 11. For more information, call the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture at 396-4575.