'Jazz Cabinets' displays beauty of age

November 19, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

November's fast becoming junk-as-art-and/or-furniture month. There's David Hess and Leonard Streckfus at Galerie Francoise and now David Klein at Nye Gomez, all of whom recycle junk. But whereas the first two artists' works are at once funny and environmentally pointed, Klein's have a different sort of resonance. At their best (and he's not entirely consistent) these pieces bespeak the beauty of age.

Klein has rescued bits and pieces of things from demolished buildings in Maryland, Maine and elsewhere: wooden wainscoting and barn siding, doors, occasionally hinges and knobs. Then he puts them together into functional furniture: wall cabinets, mostly, but also standing cabinets.

The general title for these is "Jazz Cabinets," but it's a misnomer. It suggests that they look jazzy, which the dictionary defines as "lively, gay, showy," when their effect is anything but.

Rather than hiding the age of his materials, Klein leaves it evident or even brings it out. Peeling or discolored paint, weathered wood, dents, gashes and cracks are allowed to speak. Klein also sands his surfaces to bring out layers of paint that testify to generations of use.

The result is newly made pieces with multi-hued surfaces, lined and softened by time, that bear their years with quiet dignity. There's an emotional content to these works, for they advocate the value of age, not only of things but by extension of people, cities, even civilizations.

To deepen the connotations, Klein carefully documents the locations of his findings. Parts of the cabinet "Red Glass Door," for instance, come from Canton, the Block, Key Highway, Fells Point and Hampden, making it a collection of familiar Baltimore locales, and thus a piece deeply rooted in its community.

In purely visual terms these works are often handsome as well. Pieces with surfaces mottled by wear, such as the six "Summer of '91" cabinets, achieve a quiet harmony of parts. Those whose surface colors are more nearly solid in color, such as "Yellow Door" or "Homeland Juxtaposition," look something like geometric abstractions.

Klein falters at times, especially when he adds the shiny element of gold leaf to his pieces. And in general his wall cabinets are more successful than his more ambitious standing pieces. He can overdo, and he speaks more effectively when he doesn't.

"David Klein Jazz Cabinets" continues through Dec. 7 at Nye Gomez, 836 Leadenhall St. Call (410) 752-2080.

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