Six artists search for new approaches to nudes

January 17, 1995|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

The subject of the nude in art is as old as art itself, yet endlessly new. Artists have never stopped exploring it, and considering the (forgive me) coverage it's received down the centuries, the problem facing today's artist is how to approach it in a way that's fresh but not gimmicky.

In "Figureworks," the current show at Gomez, six artists -- three photographers, two sculptors and a painter -- go at it with mixed results, but they add up to a well-thought-out show.

A. E. Ted Aub's small, elegant bronzes combine the body with other objects in surreal ways that highlight the absurdities of life. He calls each of his works "Natura Morta," which is the Italian term for still life but translated literally means "Dead Nature," suggesting the inevitable.

In "Natura Morta con Limone," a lemon replaces the head, and on top of it perches a hat in the shape of a cup and saucer; we are what we eat and drink, taking this too, too mortal and decaying flesh down to its lowest common denominator. We eat to stay alive and eventually will be eaten to keep something else (worms, as Shakespeare suggests) alive.

In "Natura Morta con Mela," the figure wears a hat whose divided crown echoes the mounds of the sculpture's buttocks, making an absurdity of sexual desire. You're going to get excited about something that looks like a hat? These works are witty with serious undertones and thoroughly satisfying.

In his torso studies, painter Jim Morphesis depicts his figures with heightened color, deep shadows and accentuated but not distorted musculature, to evoke both sensual living flesh and idealized form.

They also suggest the continuing relevance of the nude throughout art history. Both the penciled grid across the image and the title of "Study for a Standing Figure" recall the academic exercise, but when an image is this strong, it speaks for the continuing validity of academicism. And in "Torso Study for Prometheus," the figure appears to be forming itself out of abstract gestural brush strokes, suggesting both that abstract art is based in figural form and that the figure will outlast abstract art.

Hiromitsu Morimoto's lovingly lighted, soft-focus photographs of damaged sculptures -- an arm missing, a cracked leg -- do several things at once: They romanticize the human body, eroticize cold marble (even mutilated cold marble) and remind us of our own imperfection.

Dutch photographer Jo Brunenburg puts the body in the contexts of light, of drawings and of architecture to emphasize its versatility. It's successively liquid and rock-solid, angular and softly rounded. In "Atlantic Wall, 20, Martin, 1984," a figure kneels in a rectangular architectural opening, strikingly exploring the body's geometries.

Sculptures by Melanie Guernsey and photographs by Mauro Altamura are less successful. Altamura's 12 photographs of a figure in various positions are the most works by any one artist in the show, but are nevertheless too few. This is the sort of work in which the individual image and even the small group has little effect. And Guernsey's glass sculptures suffer from an air of affectation.

ART REVIEW

What: "Figureworks"

Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Feb. 4

Call: (410) 752-2080

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