Quisgard's art doesn't cross the dotted line

April 07, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Liz Whitney Quisgard's dazzlingly colored paintings and sculptures, with their intricate arrangements of dots, have been likened to Byzantine and Islamic mosaics, Seurat's pointillism and outsider art.

Outsider art they are definitely not, since the term implies creation by people innocent of formal training. Quisgard's work clearly displays the effects of her thorough training -- she studied both art and architecture at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. (She lived and taught in Baltimore for many years, though she now lives in New York.)

Her architecturally oriented works range from depictions of single columns ("Cloister Column #4") to paintings of facades ("Classical Facade") and interiors ("Romanesque Interior") to sculptures ("Column Cluster"). In them, the artist specializes in surfaces composed of thousands of dots of different colors, and they reveal mastery of such things as light and shadow, and illusion of depth and volume.

In short, they reveal formidable technical skills, and have immediate visual appeal. But that is as far as they go; there is nothing more to them than their pleasing surfaces. This is on purpose. In an artist's statement, Quisgard has asserted her "firm conviction that the visual arts are exactly that -- visual. No meanings. No messages. No preachments. No symbols. . . . We all understand a row of triangles; a strip of squares; an arrangement of circles and swirls. No need to ask their meaning. They simply are what they are. They speak to us universally and without apology."

This is all well and good. But we don't attach much importance to a row of triangles or a strip of squares if they are nothing more. That's where Quisgard's work fails to hold up. It can be called a tour de force, but it possesses the fatal flaw of so much work that marches under the banner of tour de force: behind the flashy facade it lacks substance that would make it interesting.

Let me, however, acknowledge Quisgard's popularity. Her resume lists 13 one-person shows in the last six years -- a staggering figure.

At Galerie Francoise, Quisgard shares the walls this month with the paintings of Henry Schneiderman, who presents abstract patterns made up of short bands of color repeated. Arrangements of grays, blacks and whites may dominate, with a section or sections of other colors such as red and yellow, or green and red.

These works possess an air of earnestness, but they fail to be persuasive. They have the look of exercises that have more meaning for the artist than for the viewer.

ART REVIEW

What: Liz Whitney Quisgard and Henry Schneiderman

Where: Galerie Francoise et Ses Freres, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through April 26

Call: (410) 337-2787

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