Spoofing the aloof: 3 artists present jolly good show

November 18, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Good humor is the order of the day in "Three of a Perfect Pair" at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The exhibit brings together three artists who don't share anything in particular JTC except their willingness to keep the serious from being deadly.

Walk into the Fox Building and you're confronted by James Grashow's "Building Man," a 22-foot-tall structure that is a skyscraper in the form of a man (or a man in the form of a skyscraper). His feet are the entrances; there are windows all the way up his suit of clothes; his hat is the roof; and he carries a briefcase that's a separate six-story building. He stands on a platform in the form of a city block, complete with tiny lights, trash baskets and fireplugs that help, by comparison, to enlarge the scale of "Building Man."

This is one of five Grashow pieces of man-buildings, including one with hands on hips and a top like the Chrysler building and another striding with balconies on its eyes and mouth and a fire escape on its chest.

These, I take it, are satires on postmodernism. The complaint about the glass-and-steel boxes of modern architecture was that they were cold and impersonal, that they didn't relate to people. So architects began putting columns and pediments and other historical trappings on their buildings to make them more user-friendly. Take that to its logical conclusion, Grashow says, and this is what you get: a building that is a person. It's not much moreridiculous than some of the excesses of postmodernism, but it's more fun.

Archie Rand's series of 22 paintings called Kabalah/Tarot are, a statement says, "based on comparing legends which recount the personalities of Hebrew alphabet letters with the traits accorded their corresponding card of the major arcana."

If that sounds confusing, relax; each of Rand's works combines a picture of something (often animals), a pattern across the surface (squares or circles) and areas of paint applied over the rest. These may be arcane, but surely they have their humorous side, too.

"Beth Priestess," for instance, shows a group of dogs playing pool; "Kaph Fortitude" has a peacock in it; "Yod Wheel of Fortune" shows the Statue of Liberty; and so on. One of these would mean little, but shown as a series they establish a presence that invites -- and gets -- a viewer's response.

Of the paintings by Frank Smith, the one that makes the biggest impression is, not surprisingly, the biggest -- "Intensity," a 6-by-30-foot canvas (that looks like it keeps on going on, judging by the rolled-up canvas at one end, but there's no more wall space). A statement on Smith says his family is "fully entrenched in the arts in general and jazz in particular," and this colorful abstract painting looks as if it was painted to music. More than that, it looks like a visualization of music. This, too, is a good-humored work -- in fact, a high-spirited one -- and it rounds out a show that, if it's not quite all of a piece, certainly won't put you in a bad mood.

ART REVIEW

What: "Three of a Perfect Pair."

Where: Meyerhoff Gallery, Fox Building, Maryland Institute College of Art, Mount Royal and Lafayette avenues.

When: Mondays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursdays and Fridays until 9 p.m.), Sundays noon to 5 p.m. Through Dec. 13.

& Call: (410) 225-2300.

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