New York's Museum for African Art inaugurated its new space in SoHo this year with a show called "Secrets." Its curator, Mary Nooter, pointed out that the central paradox of a secret is that its power depends on a certain degree of revelation. You have to know there is a secret in order to be interested in it.
Each of the artists in "Cryptics," at School 33, lets you in on the fact that there's something secret about his or her art -- they're letting you in part of the way, so you'll know you won't get in all the way. And each deals with a different kind of secret with which we all come in contact in our lives.
The elegant surfaces of Thomas Chimes' paintings are minimalist-looking but anti-minimalist. What you see is only the beginning of what's there.
Insinuating themselves through these surfaces are suggestions of bodies of knowledge -- intersecting circles suggesting geometry and mathematics, Greek lettering suggesting ancient philosophy or literature, and so on.
What's implied here is that knowledge is limitless although our capacity for it remains limited. No matter how diligently we may seek, a great deal of knowledge must remain secret from any one of us.
In Simon Gouverneur's painting "Vessel," the boat of the title is afloat amid natural signs -- sun, moon, fish, star. The secrets of the universe and of life become gradually known to us, but whenever we think we have mastered them, a new set may manifest itself.
Didn't we believe for centuries that the Earth was the center of the universe? What secrets still to be discovered will explode our current "knowledge?"
Andrea Way's fascinatingly complex drawing "Abandoned Gardens" has an overall pattern -- we know it -- but so complicated has she made her lines and squares and curlicues that it's impossible to make it out. We nevertheless keep trying, though, just as we keep trying to master nature by unlocking its secrets, only to have it confound us again and again.
The elaborate devices in Carol Brown Goldberg's colorful works reflect the kind of secret that's there all the time, and obvious, but that can't be deciphered because we haven't the right clues. The discs and domino-like dotted oblongs are right in front of our eyes, like hieroglyphics, but we don't have the keys that would allow us to discover the code.
Christopher French's paintings on Braille paper suggest the mountain ranges of knowledge that remain closed to us because of our particular inabilities. Blind people lack visual knowledge; sighted people lack knowledge of Braille. Similarly, think of the languages on Earth we don't know. We marvel when we hear that someone out there speaks five or six languages, but how many times six are there?
Jim Sanborn's tiny Russian lettering is taken from microfilm in KGB files, and is shown covering a square of plexiglass except for a blank circle in the center. This represents the knowledge about each of us that is known by others but kept secret from us. Do you know whether there's an FBI file on you? How many people know your age, your credit rating, your bank balance? Where are your fingerprints on file? We walk through the middle of our lives not knowing who around us knows what about us.
The works in this exhibit might be considered as more than variations on a specific theme were they to be seen in different contexts. The current context makes an interesting exercise, but does not exhaust their possibilities.
Where: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St.
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Through May 21.
Call: (410) 396-4641.