'Catholic Girls' at MAP reflects a free, soaring spirit

October 29, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Step off the elevator on the second floor of Maryland Art Place and you're in the presence of four sculptures of little girls dressed in neat paper dresses. Behind them, the much larger sculpture of a nun with a long stick in her hand. These girls had better not get out of line, that long stick says in no uncertain terms.

This striking work is Elizabeth Curren's "First Grade Girl, First Communion Girl, High Mass Girl, Easter Sunday Girl, Sister Mary Tarsisius," and it leaves no doubt about Curren's memories of growing up.

"Clearly, the ideal Catholic child was a statue," she says in the catalog of MAP's current show, "Catholic Girls." "I hated dresses and I hated standing still. And it is the natural order of childhood for enmity to exist between children and authority."

Similar sentiments emanate from many of the works in this appealingshow that resulted from the good idea of its curator, MAP director Jack Rasmussen. "Catholicism is still a great part of this city's life," he writes, so he decided to invite three dozen artists (most of them women) to reflect on what it meant to grow up Catholic.

What makes the show universal is that many of these artists deal with the subject of children and authority, which is not exclusively the province of the Roman Catholic church.

Who has not wanted to escape, like the figures who sprout wings and fly through the roof of a church in Carla Beaudet and Mary Owens' "Kilts Misfire, Clergy Flees Compromised Structure"? Many a child has thought of escape in terms of being able to fly away, which is a large part of the enduring appeal of "Peter Pan."

Who has not felt bound in a straitjacket of rules and orders? That's the point of Christine Adams' "Bad Girl, Good Girl," which consists of two vests suspended from the ceiling over two pairs of shoes on the floor.

One vest represents the good girl, carrying a prayer book and decorated with the virtues -- fortitude, piety, and all the rest -- hanging over a pair of "sensible" shoes. The other represents all the bad things -- the seven deadly sins for starters -- over a pair of black patent leather pumps. The message is clear: when we're growing up, we often feel that breaking any of the seemingly innumerable rules of conduct will condemn us to life as a sinner, so why not go all the way?

So many of the works reflect a lingering resentment against authority that the show could be read as a kind of polemic against what artist Mary Ann Crowe calls the church's "institutional patriarchy." But in a larger sense it's against whatever sort of authority you've longed to be free of. It's not hard to identify with this show.

ART REVIEW

What: "Catholic Girls"

Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Nov. 19

Call: (410) 962-8565

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