Views on Gatewood art: 'absurdity,' or maybe 'spirit of things'

THIS JUST IN...

October 24, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

From the Maryland Institute, College of Art, John Stoneham writes: "It was Archibald MacLeish who said, 'A poem should not mean but be.' Why should this not be true of Martha Gatewood's painting?" Stoneham refers to Gatewood's strange three-panel work, "Aliens Go Bowling In Utah And Find True Love," which caught my eye during a burrito at Mencken's Cultured Pearl Cafe and which prompted me to invite public perusal and comment. Why? Because if there's anything I enjoy more than fishing, opera and Italian food, it's frivolous intellectualizing. And that's exactly what you get when you ask people to give their impressions of an obstinately senseless work of art.

The artist herself likes that I have urged readers to confront her "inexplicably foolish" wall piece. "Many people are challenged by my paintings; they have been known to start fights," Martha says. "I am very pleased that you are interested in raising the level of artistic discussion. I also admire that, when confronted with something you may not understand, you are not afraid to ask, 'What is it?' " (Actually, my reaction is usually a monosyllabic "Wha?") Martha provided her own brief essay on "Aliens Go Bowling," but I am saving it for another day.

A few readers took my challenge seriously. They went to the Cultured Pearl in good spirit. They examined the piece. They saw its three panels, its hardware, its bowling artifacts, its nails, its mousetrap. And they have submitted their comments.

A.G. Sherrod: "How can she get away with this? How can you aid and abet this utter absurdity? Gluing objects to mutilated paintings does not constitute artistic endeavor . . . Glue this, alter that. Who cares? Tedium and tripe. That's it."

Chris Mandros: "There are small painted flying saucers on the mass-produced Oriental print on the right panel of Ms. Gatewood's triptych. It's not a Utah landscape, but who says they landed in Utah? There are lacey hearts all over the place representing love. The small bowling trophy on top is self-explanatory. All Ms. Gatewood's wood-mounted collages feature bottle openers; they are useful as well as beautiful. The mousetrap? Alien concepts of love [are] strange."

Anonymous: "We used to live upstairs from Martha. She's a trip."

Anonymous: "I see bowling as a spirit of things. I see Utah as a state of mind, wide open, barren, with an alien quality. It's a sense of being some place other than where you truly want to be, and if you can find true love in such a void, that's the ultimate goal. If aliens can find it, anybody can."

Janet Mathias: "'Aliens' is perhaps an elaborate kitchen appliance. Had I not already ordered a draft, I might have opened a beer bottle with this most functional piece of the exhibition. Martha's work has not provoked in me a need to decode her hidden agendas. It engages me without pretension and invites me to respond intuitively. Most importantly, her documented absurdities instigate laughter."

Leah Kleinberg: "It is a matter of the margaritas melting in one's mouth that clouds one's ability to demystify Martha's work."

More comments welcome. Next time, I'll have Martha's.

Bad comparison?

While we're still comparing notes on the 18-month sentence Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. gave Kenneth Peacock for killing his wife, add this name to the mix: Dorothy Stevenson. She's the Kent County women who burned her abusive husband to death a few hours after finding him in bed with another woman. That was in 1977.

Convicted by a jury, Stevenson was sentenced to life in prison. This month, the governor commuted her sentence. She had spent 16 years behind bars. Bad comparison? Stevenson used fire while Peacock used a gun? Stevenson's husband suffered more than Peacock's wife? OK. I'll bite. But even allowing for the idea that Stevenson's crime was somehow more heinous than Peacock's, the resolution of these two cases is so out of whack -- life vs. 18 months -- as to not simply suggest gender bias but to shout it.

Rousing introduction

Overheard at Western Maryland College as Ray Stevens, English professor and college classmate of Ellen R. Sauerbrey, attempted to give a humorous introduction of the Republican gubernatorial candidate to students at her alma mater: "It was back in 1955, I believe, when the role of every sophomore male was to assess all the freshman females. I suppose I can tell you after 30 years that you [Sauerbrey] passed the test with an FTC A-plus. But not that kind of test, [pause for laughter that didn't happen] because we were attending a chaste school affiliated with the Methodist church and there was an 8:15 curfew for freshmen women. About the same time, in a public school in Arkansas, there was a young man [awkward allusion to Bill Clinton] fulfilling his ideal gubernatorial dream in the back of an old pickup truck with a carpet of artificial, but not inhaled, grass."

Some weak laughter was heard in the room -- primarily from those affiliated with the Sauerbrey campaign.

Perspectives

From the It's-All-In-How-You-Look-At-It Department: A Stoneleigh woman asked her grandson the score of his soccer game. "The score was zero to nine," he replied. "And we got zero."

From a T-shirt: "Everything I Know I Learned From My Dog . . . If You Stare At Someone Long Enough You'll Get What You Want."

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