'Redness' colored by self-absorption

November 04, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Staff Writer

Douglas Davis' installation "Redness" has an admirable purpose: to show what it was like to be in the midst of what he calls the second Russian Revolution, the one that threw out the Soviet regime.

But Davis, an American artist well-known for works in photography, video and other media, has put together an assortment of odds and ends that add up to little more than an exercise in narcissism.

During the past several years, Davis has made trips to Russia and Eastern Europe and met a number of the intellectual dissidents who were instrumental in overthrowing the Soviet regime. He has written a diary that tells in straightforward and sometimes moving terms what he saw and did, part of which was published in the Village Voice. And he has produced the present installation, which opened in New York earlier this year and will later travel to Moscow and Warsaw.

Davis covered the walls of MAP's first-floor gallery with 4,000 pieces of paper, partly from his diary and partly letters, telegrams, faxes and other things relating to his experiences. No one is likely to read this material, but the sheer amount of it looks impressive.

The rest of the installation consists of boxes and other material relevant to Davis' activities. These include a suitcase with pictures of a woman with whom he fell in love; the television set on which he saw news of the assassination of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu; a coffin labeled "The Death of Karl Marx," from which a mask of Davis' face peers through a bright red cloth; a book containing pictures of women important in Russian history and of women Davis met.

Far from giving one a sense of the freedom movement, this hodgepodge leaves the impression that Davis has reduced a great moment in history to a series of almost adolescent reminiscences that mean little even to the viewer who has been given a tour by the artist; they will mean less to the viewer who hasn't.

In MAP's second-floor gallery, there is an exhibition of regional photography juried by Davis. This contains some strong work, though mainly in a somewhat narrow range.

3# There is a concentration on the figure, especially on the nude, and to a lesser extent an interest visual trick-playing such as Ben Marcin's infrared landscapes NTC and Diana Itter's sets of mirror-image prints. Of the rare works of social commentary, Anne Benolken's "Race Neutral Card Filing System" proves notably effective. Among familiar names to regular gallery-goers are Mary Kunaniec Skeen and Robert Salazar.

Among others, Penny Harris' "Domestic Landscapes" are pleasingly ambiguous; Patrick Lears comes through with one of the most striking images of the show, a nude with a huge eye for a head; Clarke Bedford's variations on turn-of-the-century photographs work well, especially "The Last of Little Will"; and Frank Herrera, in "Diamond, WV," gives us a beautiful



Davis will give a free lecture on his work at 7:30 tonight in the Mount Royal Station auditorium of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street.

Maryland Art Place


'Photography on the Edge'

Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.

When: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Nov. 25.

Call: (410) 962-8565.

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