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Exhibit at BMA displays 'icons' of modernism

November 22, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Shifting from Europe to America, the curators have chosen works by three artists, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe and Charles Sheeler, as representatives of American scene painting. One of the reasons they're important to the show's progression, the curators say, is that "they have a link with Pollock, who came out of that tradition. His teacher was Thomas Hart Benton," another of the American scene painters.

In addition, the curators note that Hopper's painting "House by the Railroad" possesses a sense of isolation and alienation that makes it an existentialist work of art.

Pollock came not only out of American scene painting but also out of surrealism, and his 1945 drawing "Untitled" shows him pushing "the figure and unconscious imagery toward abstraction." Another drawing, from 1950 and also untitled, shows the artist doing "exercises in control" of his paint dripping technique. These elements come together in the major drip painting "Number One, 1948," which the curators call "a tour de force of drawing with paint."

While it is a completely original work, it comes out of what went before, including the bigness and space reflected in American scene painting, surrealism, and the "importance of the surface . . . as a field of painterly activity out of which an image could emerge," the curators note. That, of course, reminds us of Cezanne, and so brings us full circle.

Pollock's "disciplined expression of mark making" also represents something else Richardson hopes the show as a whole will accomplish, and that is to counter the "crazy" syndrome of modern art.

'Crazy man' syndrome

"Many look at modern art and think it is crazy or a variant thereof -- compulsive, obsessive," Richardson says. "Van Gogh kills himself, Picasso is a womanizer, Pollock was a crazy person, a drunk who killed himself in a car accident." Because modern art is difficult, rather than trying to understand it, "people find it easier to look at the art as happenstance.

"This show will focus in on the specifics of how marks are made," to show that none of these works of art is happenstance. "We are trying to communicate to the viewer the level of intentionality and control" these artists exhibit, Richardson says.

As it stands, "Picture Perfect" is not quite as perfect as Richardson wanted it to be. She also wanted to borrow Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie-Woogie" as an example of yet another strain in modern art, "flat-out geometric abstraction." But MOMA would not lend it because of its fragile condition, and Richardson decided not to make do with another work in its place. "We didn't go in with the idea of showing a comprehensive history of modern art. There were lots of choices be made."

'Picture Perfect'

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

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

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

% Call: (410) 396-7100.

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