Strictly tubular: Idiot-box artistry at Maryland Art Place

July 20, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

It's Vast Wasteland time at Maryland Art Place. "TV Dinner: Channel to Channel" addresses itself to the timeworn but ever-relevant subject of television and the society by means of media ranging from drawings and paintings to -- what else -- television.

While the messages here pretty much boil down to the same old indictment of TV's pervasiveness, mindlessness, violence, etc., if the work is valid it doesn't really matter that we've heard what it's saying.

Ah, but is the work at MAP valid? It is possible to say that some of it is silly, boring, obvious or beside the point. In fact, almost all of this work is obvious.

Still, it's also possible to say that there's enough interesting material here to rescue the show; and that most of the better works are installations that employ, in one way or another, television.

In Ruth Turner's "International White Trash," a road of gold-sprayed charcoal briquettes (surely meant to represent the yellow brick road in "The Wizard of Oz"), bordered by trees made of fake flowers, leads up to a television set that shows the live street scene outside MAP's front window (via a stationary

camera mounted in the window). Behind this TV set, a painting with an image resembling a cross reinforces television's icon-like status. Television, this says, has become our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, our Emerald City, or object of worship, and what does it give us? Not as much as we could see by looking at the real world for ourselves, because any viewer of this piece who just turns around and looks out the front window will see more of the street than the camera sees.

Lee Boot's and Mike Barnes' "T.V. Chair and T.V. Show" consists of a chair made of books (we no longer read them, we might as well make some use of them) in front of a television set on which the viewer can play a tape that purports to be one of those television how-to shows -- this one about how to make conceptual art. It's a satire and a nonsense piece (saying that television is nonsense), and it's kind of fun, and, being a work of art about a television show about making a work of art, its circularity has appeal.

In Mary Owens' and Scott Pittman's "Birth of Plastic Dreams," a baby (a doll, of course) sits in a high chair with a bowl of cereal, while in front of it an enormous TV plays on and on (videotape by Fred Collins), segueing from cartoons to romance to ads and so on. When one reflects that many, many children are doubtless parked in front of TV like this day after day, year after year, this becomes the most chilling image in the show.

Peter Walsh's "Spinning Wheel" is a curtained-off circle in which the viewer finds himself surrounded by 10 TV sets, apparently offering a wide choice of fare from cartoons to news to video shopping; but each shows only a few seconds of the same image, running over and over and over and over and over.

Among two-dimensional works, Susan Waters-Eller's oil "Live at Six" puts the viewer in a cage surrounded by televisions, all going at once; it's positively frightening.

And Darrell Wilcox's "The Jimmy Swaggert Inspirational Hour" is pointed and funny. A man and a woman sit on a sofa looking at television, she holding a Bible and he holding a cross; but at the same time his eyes are, quite literally, undressing her. You don't believe the word "literally"? Go see it.

ART REVIEW

What:"TV Dinner: Channel to Channel"

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

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through Aug. 21

Call: (410) 962-8565

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