'Friends and Neighbors': The stuff of art, the stuff of life

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

"Jay with Bike" is a kid on a bike, looking around to see what's going on; "Titi in Window" is a motherly-looking type leaning out of the window to take in the passing scene; "Kido and Ralph" is a big old guy with a major set of keys dangling from a belt loop, helping a kid across the street; Raymond andToby is a guy and his dog.

These are people doing what the rest of us do every day, only they're sculptures in a gallery at the Baltimore Museum of Art. There's an irony here, a happy irony.

Understanding it requires a little history.

Back in 1978 John Ahearn met Rigoberto Torres. Ahearn was an artist who lived in New York's East Village and made busts of some of his friends. Torres lived in the South Bronx and made religious statues in his uncle's workshop. The two met at Fashion Moda, a Bronx art center engaged in reaching out to the community.

Eventually, Ahearn moved to the Bronx and he and Torres began collaborating on making sculptures of neighborhood people.

Their sessions became neighborhood events, sometimes taking place right out on the street. The subject submitted to being coated with plaster as friends and neighbors looked on. When the plaster hardened, in 20 minutes or so, it was removed and the resulting negative mold used to make a positive cast that was then painted to make a remarkably lifelike sculpture.

Generally, there would be two of these, one for the subject to keep and one for the artists. Many of these sculptures have been exhibited on South Bronx walls, as a culmination of the whole process of bringing art to the people.

This is art that shows people they can be art, not just look at it.

This is art that shows people art is about what they do, not just about ancient gods and long-dead generals.

This is art that's made and shown out there on the streets, where people live, not shut up in a museum.

So where are we seeing "Friends and Neighbors: The Art of John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres"? Shut up in the Baltimore Museum. An irony, yes? But it's a happy irony, because those who see these sculptures will find that their lives are the stuff of art. It's not every day that we find art demonstrating so clearly that art is about life.

So clearly yet so effortlessly. It would be a mistake to wax too philosophical about these delightful sculptures. It would be like making everybody get all dressed up to go to a picnic. The only problem with this show is that there isn't more of it. You see the nine sculptures in one gallery, you're just beginning to have fun, and that's all, folks.

Friends and Neighbors

Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive near North Charles and 31st streets.

When: Wednesdays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Through Jan. 17.

Admission: $5, $3.50 for seniors and students, $1.50 for ages 4 to 18, free to all on Thursdays.

Call: (410) 396-7100.

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