Amalie Rothschild: An artistic life committed to the geometric form Much time devoted to the community

August 17, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Amalie Rothschild has devoted a significant part of her life both to her art and to art in her community, Baltimore. A native of the city and a graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, she has been a board member of the institute, the Baltimore Museum of Art and Maryland Art Place.

She has served as president of the Artists' Union of Baltimore, a member of the Inner Harbor Sculpture Committee and the Subway Art Selection Committee, and has taught art at Goucher College.

In a long career as an artist she has been featured in solo exhibitions both at the Baltimore Museum and at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. Her work is owned by both of those institutions plus Washington's Phillips Collection. Now she is the subject of a 45-year retrospective, 1948-1993, at the Nye Gomez Gallery, the latest accomplishment in a career distinguished both for its service and for its honors.

As can be seen here, her work has ranged widely to include painting, sculpture and works on paper, and her subject matter also ranges from the human figure to the hard- edge abstraction. But it is unified by her commitment to compositions built up of geometric forms. Her human figures and her abstractions are equally composed of these forms, reflecting a singular devotion to a vision which has sustained the artist through time, medium ** and subject.

The problem with Rothschild's art, from my point of view, is that it too often fails to engage strongly enough either the intellect or the emotions. The artist's craftsmanship is never in doubt, and she produces work that is pleasing, disciplined, often clever, but not amply challenging. One gets from it too little of a sense of struggle or of pushing boundaries. Rothschild has a facility, there is no doubt about that, but at least judging by this exhibit she has too often settled for that facility, and sacrificed thereby some of the depth that would make these works more resonant. It may be possible, however, that Rothschild's best works have already entered private and public collections, and an exhibit drawn from them would create a different impression.

Among the works here, some of the most satisfying are early paintings such as "Studio Window" (1953) and "Self-Portrait with Crossed Arms" (1948). "Studio Window" reveals Rothschild's interest in geometry, but it has more than that: it walks a tightrope between the abstract and the representational with a suggestion of three-dimensional depth, there is a nice balance between warm and cool colors, the textured surface adds interest and the asymmetrical composition creates a pleasing tension.

By the time of "Landscape" or "Still Life" (both 1977), two of the largest paintings in the show, Rothschild has reduced her elements to bigger, simpler forms, fewer colors and a bolder presentation. Their appeal is perhaps more immediate than that of earlier works, if less subtle.

Rothschild has never ceased to experiment with media. From the late 1970s and early 1980s there are sculptures that make unlikely partners of particle board and gold leaf. And a number of works on paper are among the artist's most appealing, carried off with a refreshing sense of humor.

ART REVIEW

What: Amalie Rothschild retrospective.

Where: Nye Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Sept. 11

Call: (410) 752-2080.

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