For its eighth annual benefit Saturday night, Maryland Art Place continued its penchant for the cheeky with the "Chair-ity Extravaganza" -- really three assorted exhibits of chairs historical, functional or fantastical. A majority of pieces in the exhibits were sold or auctioned, with all proceeds to benefit Maryland artists.
Of course, such gimmicks can, through their own necessary comprehensiveness, dilute the purely artistic power of an exhibit. What is noteworthy in MAP's collections of chairs, however, is their almost serendipitous variety and quality.
Most of the first floor is devoted to "Lord Baltimore's Throne," tracing the evolution of the chair in Maryland from about 1740 to the present. Ironically, the older pieces in this group, though impressive in their way, are the least satisfying as art -- neither provocative nor moving.
Far more compelling (though still clearly functional), however, is a quirky, modernistic copper chair by James Evanson and the powerfully individual "Joyce's Chair" by Patti Tronolone.
Lot 218," also on MAP's first floor, contains both functional and more abstractionist works. Of the latter, the strongest pieces included Bette Cooke's "Side Chair" (1991), a glorious construction of brass and silver leaf, and Amalie Rothschild's "Child's Musical Chair" (1991), colorfully painted and gently decorated with rope and music box.
By far, the most delightful works were those of "Take A Seat." Here, some 80 area artists -- each starting with a wooden folding chair -- altered and decorated the structure in surprising ways. Lisa Lazar's "Untitled," for instance, replaces the chair's back with an iron and glass latticework and tiny glass cubes containing such objects as a tooth, a dead insect, flowers. Her austere decoration of the chair and the fragile objects evoke impressions dark and irresistibly mythic.
Most memorable -- at least, most droll -- was Moure and Moure's "Chair Kit," in which the individual parts, unassembled, are painted and neatly placed in a well-crafted rectangular box. And for those who don't like deconstructionist art, instructions are included.
Maryland Art Place is a non-profit multidisciplinary arts center located at 218 W. Saratoga St. The exhibits continue through Sept. 28. Call 962-8565.