Hooray, they got the art back outside at Artscape. In som recent years, all but a token amount of the art has been at indoor locations. This year, though, two of the five major art shows available for viewing yesterday are outdoors where you more or less have to meet them if you go to the festival this weekend or wander down Mount Royal Avenue between now and Aug. 11. Way to go Artscape.
That's the good news. The not quite so good news is that taken as a whole the art presence at Artscape is just a tad bland this time around -- there's not a lot of work that thrills by its originality or stuns by its power.
On balance, what we have here is a good solid Artscape if not a terribly exciting one -- well thought out and organized, with a nice mix of shows, not one of which turned out to be a bust.
Of the two outdoor shows, "A" put architects and artists in collaboration (the third A, presumably, stands for you, the audience). Part of the purpose, according to a statment by curators Lisa Lewenz and Steve Ziger, was to encourage Baltimoreans to "examine their own role as active participants in their collective environment."
This aspect of the project is perhaps best seen in two of its four installations, which really make us look at what's around us. "Kaleidoscope," by Laurie Dickeson, Thomas Miller, David Gudmond Morin and Duncan Walker, is a tower looking something like an odd lighthouse. You mount a few steps to the base level and look up through mirrored walls to a mirrored disk on top that revolves with the breeze, reflecting down to the viewer glimpses of the city around. This is fun, and it makes you look at what's around you and think about it as an aesthetic experience: If the Revolutionary War monument looks good when it comes into view, the parking lot sure doesn't. The argument here is to give more thought to what we build (and tear down), and if that's obvious, it's still worth restating.
Keith Mehner's and Nevin Mercede's "Untitled" does somewhat the same thing; it makes you look again at certain landmarks, from the nearby Maryland Institute building and Corpus Christi church to the First Presbyterian church tower and the top of the Maryland National building.
Alan Chadwick's and Jann Rosen-Queralt's "Outback," with its curving, windowed yellow wall, purple-tinted stones, steel wool "basins" on the trunks of two trees and other elements, is the most visually effective of all these works and the one that makes the best use of its site.
"Neutral Ground," the other outdoor exhibit, has the natural world -- and what we do to it -- as theme. As with "A," the concept is admirable, the results mixed. One of the best of these nine works is one of the simplest, Scot Cahlander's and Lee Lehnert's "Plus or Minus Earth." A rectangle of earth, looking like a bed or a coffin, is suspended a few feet above the spot from which it was taken. That's all -- but the implications of the death of the Earth from whose bed we all spring are powerful.
Equally simple and also effective is Brent Crothers' "Wake Up," a dead tree surrounded by dead trunks. With a floor of yellow-page telephone books and a plant growing out of a supermarket cart, "Greenhouse," by George Chang, Daniel Conrad and David Nez, seems to say that if we keep on destroying the Earth to support our consumer-driven desires, the only plants left will be the ones grown indoors.
Wes Goodwin's and Mary Owens' "Niche with Saint" has the title character covered with beads and surrounded by hubcaps. It hits you with what Grace Hartigan calls the glitz and trash element that one finds virtually everywhere in America. Matthew Keener's "Land Whale" may or may not have a specific point to make, but its gently sloping wooden arch on legs possesses a restful serenity.
Moving inside, "The Mythic Vision," in the Mount Royal Station building, has artists' personal myths, not myths from books, as its theme. This is a wildly erratic show, veering from
commanding and thoughtful works to ones that are downright bad. Among the former are Shawn Elizabeth Bartsch's surrealist "Persistence of Memory," the dark, angry god of Alex Nozick's and Josh Nozick's "Untitled," the dreamlike psychological montage of James Gouldthorpe's "The Solid 'I'" and the mixture of ritual paraphernalia in Sam Christian Holmes' "Ms. Hutchison's Closet."
At the Fox building, "Fiber: The State of the Art" occupies the first floor. This show's three sections explore the many uses to which fiber can be put, from "personal raiments" to "aesthetic concerns" to "social referents." Some of the strongest works are in the last of these sections, including Bonnie Lee Holland's two scrolls, particularly "River Journey: Song of Radiation." But without a doubt the most moving work here is Elizabeth Talford Scott's "Tie Quilt." Made of buttons, men's ties and other stuff, it is somehow, inexplicably, filled with hope and sadness and love.