Fragmented views of the human body Exhibit rejected by NEA makes one wonder why

November 10, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

In May 1992, then National Endowment for the Arts Chairwoman Anne-Imelda Radice vetoed NEA funds for a show called "Anonymity and Identity," which was being organized by the Anderson Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University and had previously been approved for NEA funds by the National Council on the Arts.

Radice's reason, as quoted in an introductory essay in the

exhibit's catalog, was that the exhibit "did not measure up" to the NEA's artistic standards; but to Radice's opponents, the essay goes on, "her actions were merely a form of veiled censorship." The exhibit came about anyway and is now at the Art Gallery of the University of Maryland at College Park.

If Radice's "actions were . . . veiled censorship" one wonders what's there to censor. The show is hardly objectionable, for while there are references to violence they appear in one work in which it is clear that the acts shown are being condemned. If, on the other hand, Radice really thought the show "did not measure up" to artistic standards, she's a harsh critic, for it's well thought out and worth doing, though inconsistent and accompanied by a slipshod catalog.

Five artists from four countries were brought together because of a common theme, that of the human body. All address the subject, mainly by fragmenting it. Writes Steven S. High in his introductory essay, "From the chaos of the fragment, perhaps we can attempt to structure a new identity, a new view of ourselves and the world." The exhibit may not succeed in doing that, but itdoes show us a variety of responses to the idea of fragmentation.

In her enormous color photographs, Genevieve Cadieux of Montreal provides the most challenging and provocative works in the show. "Le Corps du Ciel" (the body of heaven, or perhaps of the sky) juxtaposes two photographs, one of bruised skin and one of a sky with gathering storm clouds. By bringing together an ugly blemish and a manifestation of natural beauty, Cadieux invites a reordering of thoughts on the beauty of nature and the nature of beauty.

"Crux," by Gary Hill of Seattle, is a 24-minute videotape run on five television monitors, one each recording the artist's head, hands and feet as he moves through and in the immediate neighborhood of a gutted building. The cross-form of the work recalls the crucifixion, and the absence of a body to unite these extremities does provoke thoughts about unity and integrity. But the repetitions make it boring long before it's over.

"Peche" (sin) by Annette Messager of Paris consists of a grouping of small photographs in a triangular orientation; the photos show whatappear to be acts of sexual assault and degradation, and a finger points to each in condemnatory


Thomas Florschuetz of Berlin and Holly Wright of Charlottesville, Va., photograph parts of the body in different ways. Wright's black and white photos of fingers and parts of hands suggest sensuous textures and even intimate acts, while Florschuetz's big color photographs of eyes and fingers are slightly menacing.


What: "Anonymity & Identity"

Where: The Art Gallery, Art-Sociology Building, University of Maryland at College Park

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and until 9 p.m. Wednesdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Dec. 23

Call: (301) 405-2763

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