Two drawings hanging side-by-side at the Baltimore Museum of Art show how different much the same material can be -- or seem -- when fashioned by different hands with different sensibilities behind them. Brice Marden's and Sol LeWitt's drawings are only a few years apart (1974-1976 and 1981, respectively); both are untitled; both are geometric drawings of black lines on white paper, Marden's a grid and LeWitt's resembling three sides of a box.
LeWitt's, however, is precise, cool, intellectual, disciplined, remote. Marden's, in comparison, is enthusiastically imperfect, marked by little dibs and dabs flying out of the grid, warm, emotional, intense. Or at least it appears so when seen in the company of the LeWitt.
These two are among 25 works in "Marking the Decades: Drawings 1960-1990," a small show being presented as something of a companion piece to a much larger contemporary print show which opens Feb. 23.
Small, yes, but it still offers several examples of how juxtaposition and comparison can influence one's perception of a work, and it also reflects the wide range of art produced over the last generation or so. If you want to be negative about the phenomenon you can call it fragmentation or chaos; if you want to be positive you can call it openness; if you don't know what you want, you can go with the neutral term pluralism.
We have Philip Pearlstein's "Female Model Lying on Bed, Feet on Floor" to represent the age-old tradition of the nude in art, but also in a pose so reminiscent of Modigliani's "Reclining Nude" (about 1919) at the Museum of Modern Art that it might be an homage. Next to this is David Hockney's delicate "Armchair," and on the other side Ellen Phelan's veiled, romantic, gently lighted "Bride (Turning Away)" -- a trio that anchors us in the representational.
Nearby are a trio of what might now be safely referred to as old masters of contemporary art -- Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers and Robert Rauschenberg. Compare these with, say, the Hockney, and you emphasize their modernism. They look much more like establishment figures, however, when compared with the minimalist/conceptualist wall across the way, held by Dorothea Rockbourne, Mel Bochner and Ralph Humphrey. The Humphrey, an untitled square of light blue with stripes on textured paper, looks positively sensual in its company.
But not as sensual as the big, dark forms of Elizabeth Murray's pastel collage. This shares a wall of expressive works with Pat Steir's huge untitled drawing, one of her "wave" series, that at first looks like nothing but ends by having tremendous power and scale; and Terry Winters' brooding "Dark Plants, 2," whose shapes carry deep psychological weight.
So where is the pop in all this? Well, there's Edward Ruscha's "Soup," a rendering of the word that floats somewhere between Warhol and conceptualism, and has its own strange, slithering, insinuating sensuality.
The show runs through April 19 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st streets. Call (410) 396-7100.