What's brewing: not all good, not all bad

December 23, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Victor Kerpel's "Inside the Gold Mine" is a harrowing scene of people using drugs in a dark, dingy room. From the title, it would seem that these are people who deal drugs as well as take them, who have a "gold mine" but whose lives are as desperate as those they victimize. It's a scene right out of today, but the style is realistic and the medium oil on canvas, about as traditional as you can get. Moreover, it's shown together with two studies, another bow to traditional art practice.

In a way, this painting is typical of "The Gathering Storm" at Maryland Art Place. Curated by artist and educator Joe Lewis, it's a show about issues -- of gender, race, religion, etc. -- but by and large the works in it are not angry or confrontational. They tend to look at the awfulness of drug culture and war and even sexual abuse with a matter-of-factness; and in some of them there is even a valedictory note for a world, or a life, or an innocence -- or even a kind of art making -- that is of the past or soon will be.

The title of the show refers to Winston Churchill's volume about the time when we were all sliding into the apocalypse of World War II, and the show has about it the feeling of things coming to an end. Plug in Peter Quinn's "Counting Stick" and an odometer starts to spin so fast you can't see all the numbers. This could be time, or life, or life as we know it, running by so fast that it's impossible to hang on.

Sometimes this is bad, and sometimes not, and sometimes it depends on your point of view. Thomas Mullany's "Man with Sword and Shield" may be (as Mr. Lewis suggests) Man -- white man, that is -- armed to defend himself against the assaults on white male domination by women and minorities. He has as little chance as someone going to war with sword and shield in a nuclear age.

On the other hand, this can equally be seen (especially, perhaps, if you're a white male) as mankind hopelessly defending itself against the assaults of the modern age on traditional values.

The same artist's "Bye, Bye" can be read as condemning industrialism or praising scientific progress, or even both. If a storm is coming, this exhibit as a whole says, neither what it blows away nor what replaces has a monopoly on the good or the bad. That might sound like a truism; if so, it's really an over-simplified summation of a most thought-provoking show.

The show continues through Feb. 1 at Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St. Call 962-8565.

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