People don't usually talk to perfect strangers in art galleries, but on Friday when I was viewing "Natural Selection: Sculpture by Christy Rupp" at the Maryland Institute a young man turned to me and said, "It's great, isn't it? Just great!"
I think he was so eager to communicate because he'd just been communicated with so forcefully. Rupp's sculptures -- about what terrible things we humans do to the world -- are visually punchy and easy to understand.
As soon as you walk into the exhibit you're greeted by "Fossil Fuels Forever." Its oil cans and birds smeared with oil (one of them dead) bring the tragedy of spills to gallery goers who may never have seen the destruction firsthand. Oh yes, we have television; and yes, this is a sculpture, not real birds. But it puts the oil and the birds in your space. You have to walk through the piece to get to the door to the next room.
The series "Convalescing Staple Crops and Recreational Export Crops" sends an equally clear message. All you really have is to do is read the titles -- "Tobacco in an Easy Chair" and "Wheat on Crutches" are two of the seven -- to understand that crops of unnecessary and even harmful things are more profitable than crops of staples.
Rupp, who graduated from the Institute's Rinehart School of Sculpture in 1977 and has since become widely known, takes on the environment in the widest possible sense. She deals with technology replacing human employment ("The Workerless Recovery"), the uselessness of politics ("Iowa after the Caucuses"), and yes, the press. "Press Parrot" is a parrot sitting on one of the legs of a camera tripod. You can bet this bird is just repeating what it's fed by the politicians and the businessmen.
The only question I have about Rupp's work is whether it's too much fun for its own good. It's fine to enjoy it, but it won't have done its work unless we take its message seriously enough to get angry and get involved. We must remember, as Lucy Lippard puts it in the accompanying catalog's clear and perceptive essay, "[Rupp's] art gives pleasure even as it heralds the dire consequences of ignoring the pain we inflict on nature, which of course includes ourselves."
"Natural Selection" continues through Dec. 15 at the Decker Gallery, Mount Royal Station Building, Maryland Institute College of Art, Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street. Call 669-9200.