"Confinements," at UMBC, is a show that works almost all the way. Almost.
It is the latest in the fine arts gallery's "Baltimore to Washington" (read regional artists) series. It has a curator in Andrea Pollan of Washington; it has a theme, exploring confinement of several kinds from physical to psychical to sociological; it has a catalog with an essay by Pollan and photographs of the five works on view; and four of the five relate to the theme.
As Pollan writes, these works exist in a realm between sculpture and architecture; they are the size of sculpture, but they communicate architecturally.
Kendall Buster's "What Blooms Under Extreme Circumstances" is either a shelter or a prison, depending on your point of view. From the exterior, it presents seven semicircular compartments of black metal. These define a small central space which you enter through an opening where the eighth compartment would be. Once in, you can see out through a horizontal slit in each compartment.
The effect is the opposite of what one might imagine: from the outside, it looks forbidding; once inside, the impression is of being safe -- all but surrounded by armor -- where you can steal glances at those outside but
they aren't likely to look in. This is good confinement.
Leslie Zelamsky's "Compartmentalized Inclinations," produces the opposite effect. From the outside its two triangular wooden structures -- not quite joined so that they can be entered -- look innocent enough. But once inside, one begins to feel their confining presence, and to think thoughts of prison and death. This is bad confinement.
Stacey Jones' "Foreigner (City)" consists of circuit boards coated with black asphalt, laid out to resemble Manhattan Island, and suspended from the ceiling at about eye level. Walking around this, one has the feeling of flying over the city very low at a great speed, and of being some
giant or god compared to those who live in a city of this tiny scale. Sadness at the thought of those condemned to live in the tiny buildings mingles with the exhilaration of immense power that the disparity of scale gives the viewer. This is about both the confinements of life and liberation from them.
Timothy Naylor's "Assembly" gives us a proscenium arch with curtains such as one no doubt appeared in front of in school. It serves to remind us of how confined we were even then -- hemmed in by familial, economic and other conditions which had to a large extent already determined our lives. This is sociological confinement.
So far, so good. But Marjetica Potrc's "Caryatid, a Body for Sculpture," while it does exist in the realm of sculpture/architecture, it has little to do with confinement. And Pollan's attempt to shoehorn it into the theme proves feeble: "In its internal volumes, the piece confines the cultural memory of the figure as it has been represented in sculpture and as it has historically related to architecture and surrounding space." You bet.
Otherwise, however, this is a well conceived, handsomely installed, thought-provoking exhibit.
The show runs through May 30 at the Fine Arts Gallery of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Call 410-455-3188.