The fine art of technology


October 08, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

When David Yager became head of the visual arts department at University of Maryland Baltimore County in 1986, the program had an enrollment of 46 students. It's now about 400 and growing, and next fall the school will institute a master's program.

A major reason for Yager's accomplishment is that he positioned his program daringly and differently from what was around. He saw that other area art schools offered programs in painting and sculpture. So he built a program that, while it teaches traditional disciplines, concentrates on photography, film, video and computer-generated imagery.

The school also now has a handsome and versatile gallery, currently the site of the visual arts faculty biennial exhibition. It's refreshingly different from what you'd see at other area faculty shows, and it reflects the fine job Yager has done in building both program and faculty (now 17 full time).

There's painting in the show, yes, and it's good painting, too, including Symmes Gardner's oil "The Bridge," notable for its symbolism and its color, and Carol Fastuca's eight-panel "Ocean Stains," which manages to be abstract and almost trompe l'oeil at the same time.

But it's other works that make this show different. Take Alan Price's "Virtual Gallery," for instance. Price has put together a basic, homemade virtual reality system; you put it on your head like a hat and it shows you, on a screen in front of your eyes, the part of the gallery you're facing -- only the image you see (and which moves as you move) comes from a computer through a tiny television set. Virtual reality isn't easy to explain, but it's a technology that will be part of our lives before long.

Or take Natalie Bookchin's "Inventory, Chicago 7/88-12/88" a wall full of hundreds of 4-by-5-inch photographs of what she owned at one period. What is this thing saying? That you may think you know a person when all you really know is the externals? That reduced to what we own we're really pretty insignificant, or that what we own doesn't identify us at all? You may read it as you will, but you probably won't ignore it.

Or take Vin Grabill's "Issues of the Day," which in this context is quite subversive. Four television screens housed in two big cardboard boxes give you hundreds of television images, but doctored so you can't make anything out of most of them. Concentrate hard, and you can catch a written message about (( what we're doing to the earth, but the point seems to be that we get so much electronic imagery it's almost impossible to make anything meaningful out of it. Coming from this department that's subversive, but it's another indication of the freedom of ideas floating around.

Not everything in the show is successful, but as a whole it's challenging and fun. What else can you call a show where you can see both a Romanesque cloister and a woman with a computer screen in her stomach?

You don't believe me? Go see.

Faculty Show

Where: Fine Arts Gallery, UMBC, 5401 Wilkens Ave.

When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Through Nov. 28.

Call: (410) 455-3188.

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