Refreshing insights in art

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

You had to be there. I wasn't, but I heard about it.

The opening of the University of Maryland Baltimore County's visual arts faculty biennial featured a "performance" of Hillary Kapan's piece "Sales Pitch [sic]." Here's what it looked like:

A pitchfork sticks straight out from one wall. In front of it are suspended an American flag above a television set, held away from the pitchfork by 40 strings to which are attached dollar bills. People are invited to take one of the dollar bills, but to get one you have to cut one of the strings with a handy pair of scissors. When all the dollar bills are cut away, the television and the flag above it lurch backwards and the pitchfork spears the flag.

Ok, it's pretty obvious. Television feeds the greed which is destroying America. Still, it makes its point, and I bet nobody ever saw anything like that before.

That's what makes this show so refreshing.

The built-in danger of faculty shows is that you're going to see the same people doing the same things over and over again. Not at UMBC. For one thing, the faculty here is anything but traditional in its approach. Yes, it includes a painter (and a very good one), Symmes Gardner, whose two contributions, "Portrait" and "Shell," are strongly painted, memorable images.

But this faculty's into a lot of stuff: interactive installation, computer-generated prints, video projections. Most of it is highly imaginative, compelling work.

Take Natalie Bookchin and Hollie Lavenstein's "Telling Stories: The Museum." Under five photographs by, respectively, Eadweard Muybridge, Lewis Carroll, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Helmut Newton runs a written narrative about a couple who have broken up. "It's the same old story . . . I guess we both knew the end before it happened . . ." What, we wonder, is the connection between the photos and the story? The third component of this work is a tape recorded "tour." As you view the photos, it relates a story about each of the photographers that involves a romantic liaison.

Jaromir Stephany's "How Did I Get so Old so Soon? or Me, Then and Now" involves silver prints, computer-generated prints and text in a work about what it feels like to age. It hits home. William-John Tudor's installations, "Polarities I" and "Polarities II," involve "buildings" made with computer circuit boards combined with glass plates and pieces of furniture. These works appear to be about the constant clash of past and future in an ever-continuing present, but maybe not.

There's humor here, too, in Alan Rutberg's "Midrash," about growing up, and in the title of Harvey Kirstel's handsomely painted boxes, called "Five Old Wood Medicine Cabinets Laboriously Re-finished & Re-painted so as to Make Them Appear as Old as They Were Originally." They don't, of course, and that's part of the fun.

Not everything in this show is equally successful. But to see it is to sense that here is a faculty encouraged to extend itself. And that's always good.


What: UMBC Visual arts Faculty Biennial

Where: Fine Arts Gallery, UMBC, 5401 Wilkens Ave.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Oct. 22.

Call: (410) 455-3188.

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