African art show relies on visual strength

March 06, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

"African Art from Maryland Collections" at the Life of Maryland Gallery brings together 70 pieces from five sources. Its chief virtue is showing the pieces; its chief fault is not telling us more about them.

There's a variety of works, from big to small, from masks and headdresses to staffs and spears to musical instruments, animals, wall hangings and even two doors. They come from various peoples in several countries in Africa, including Mali, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Nigeria in the west, Zaire in the center, Kenya in the east and Zimbabwe and Lesotho in the south.

And they are of course fascinating, many exhibiting tremendous character and visual strength, reflecting great creativity. It's both a pleasure and instructive just to see them. But just seeing them is about all the visitor gets out of most of this show, which $H desperately needed a curatorial hand to provide information and organization.

Of the 70 works, 13 are from Lane Berk's collection and she provided enlightening comments on them. If the whole show were so annotated it would be quite worthwhile. For the rest, however, we are merely given the name and the origin.

Works from different places are grouped together with no statement as to why. There is no information, either, on function (aside from the title), style, iconography or age (aside from a few identified as modern).

As a result, one can only recommend this show to the public with major reservations. It is certainly better than not having it, but it's far from what it might have been.

African Art

When: Through March 20

Where: Life of Maryland Gallery, Baltimore Life Building, 901 N. Howard St.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Call: 539-7900.

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