Artscape covers the spectrum

July 17, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

As a huge annual assemblage of area art, Artscape -- the annual free celebration in the city's Mount Royal cultural district that runs today through Sunday -- serves in part as a place to go to see what's happening in art locally. As such, should itsAs a huge annual assemblage of area art, Artscape -- the annual free celebration in the city's Mount Royal cultural district that runs today through Sunday -- serves in part as a place to go to see what's happening in art locally. As such, should its mandate be to encompass the widest spectrum, pulling in as much as possible from many aspects of the art community and many levels of creativity? Or should it make an effort to represent the best of what's happening here?

That's a question with no easy answer, because there are good arguments on both sides. But you can't do both at the same time, and those who think inclusiveness is more important than consistent quality will be the ones most pleased with this year's group of visual arts shows.

Take, for instance, what is billed as the "cornerstone" show, "Masters, Mentors and Makers," curated by Maryland Institute dean Leslie King-Hammond. The title itself is something of a masterpiece of inclusiveness, for if not every artist is a master or a mentor surely every artist is a maker.

Actually, Dr. King-Hammond had a quite specific group of people in mind: she wanted to honor older artists who have lived in the community and contributed to it through their work and in some cases through their teaching for a considerable number of years. But within that definition she has included everyone from internationally acclaimed abstract expressionist Grace Hartigan to a Baltimore screen painter, and from those who are themselves academically trained and have taught for years to those who have taken up art spontaneously, without formal training.

The result is a show that's all over the map; it has its delights, such as Hartigan's painting "Garbo at Home" and Elizabeth T. Scott's quilt "Monster," but it is not consistent -- and that's not to say that the self-taught don't measure up to the academically trained; in some cases it's just the opposite.

The juried exhibition, "Maryland Survey," is inclusive in another way -- that of sheer numbers of works, given the space allotted to them. With more than 80 works in four fields -- crafts, painting, photography, sculpture -- the show would have looked better had it had room to breathe. But with the "Masters" exhibit at the Decker gallery of the Mount Royal Station building, and with another show in the Fox building's third floor thesis gallery, this one was confined to the Fox's first floor Meyerhoff gallery where everything is jammed in and nothing looks its best.

To further complicate matters, there was a separate juror in each field, and judging by their statements they had different objectives. Where one juror looked for excellence, another sought diversity and another responded to message.

Given such a small space, no discipline could be represented adequately. Photography gets especially short shrift here; and, spread out among the other works, the photographs make even less of an impression than if they had been grouped together.

There are certainly rewards, however. They include, but are not limited to, E. H. Sorrells-Adewale's "Watcher I," an elegant wall sculpture in the form of a handsomely and symbolically clothed figure; E. Clark Mester, Jr.'s "Rhythm," a sculpture in carved ash suggesting a wonderfully cocky and funny dancer; and other sculptures including Steve Reber's "Drip"; and the beauty of Carla D. Starkey's baskets and of Arnold d'Epagnier's writing desk.

It's always important for Artscape to have outdoor shows, for they are probably all the visual art that some visitors to this multifaceted celebration see. This year there are no fewer than three included, of which two seem better in theory than practice.

"Materials for Growth," with works that make use of living plants, sounds like a great idea for an outdoor show. But of the four (out of five) that I saw completed, none really escapes dullness.

The aim behind "Oui, the People" was to include an ethnically diverse group of artists, an admirable intention, but the art itself is at least equally diverse. At one end of this group, we have Debra-Attiya Melton's "Urban Temple Series: On the Way," an austere and moving, ritualistic-looking work in which a column rises out of a pool of water surrounded by bands of stone and sand. At the other end is Duane Thigpen's "Statements in the Crowd," a group of placards paint-splashed with the words "pro" and "con;" Thigpen is better than this conglomeration indicates.

"Interaction," the third outdoor show, may well turn out to be the best, though neither of its two works was finished when I saw them yesterday. In fact, neither will be finished until Artscape is on, because the idea behind them is that the people who come this weekend complete them by interacting with them.

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