Sculptures look behind society's masks

November 02, 1995|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Richard Cleaver's sculptures, made of ceramics, paint and sometimes wood, are meticulously crafted, ingenious essays in the falsity of the created image.

His show at Goucher, called "Public Histories, Private Lives," deals with the difference between the persona we try to put forward for the world to see and the real person who hides behind the mask. It deals, too, with how difficult it is to escape the role that one's world (parents, peers, socioeconomic status, etc.) thrusts upon him or her.

Two of these works, "Queen's Closet" and "Court Dress," deal with two of the most familiar stories in European history: Henry VIII and his wives, and Marie Antoinette and the fall of the French monarchy.

These free-standing works, almost 8 feet tall, are made in the form of cabinets that open to reveal figures that relate to the historical story. "Queen's Closet," topped by Catherine of Aragon (Henry's first wife) opens to reveal portraits of four of the other wives -- Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard -- mounted around a rod that rotates so you can see all four faces. As Jane Seymour, who bore Henry the son he desperately wanted, comes into view, you can see a baby in her belly; as the beheaded Anne Boleyn comes into view, there is a death's head where the baby was.

Even those with the most highly developed structures of power occupy fragile positions. If Henry's queens came to unhappy ends, the greatest irony is reserved for Henry himself. The son he so wanted, Edward VI, survived him by only six years and died at the age of 15; it was Henry's female heir Elizabeth who went on to become England's greatest monarch.

Most of Cleaver's other works here deal with more ordinary mortals, but the messages are equally clear. "Fraternity, 1907" shows rows of men all dressed, and looking, pretty much alike. Above them are men on horseback, perhaps the medieval knights these fraternity brothers see themselves as successors to. And flanking the brothers are shadowy depictions of women, who were not supposed to put themselves forward back in 1907.

But those fraternity brothers, so self-important back in 1907, are gone and forgotten now; their pretensions didn't gain them any more immortality than the women whose roles they thought inferior.

Cleaver's family-oriented works make a related point. In "Father, Son," the way Father holds Son shows he wants a carbon copy; Son will have a tough time if he wants to escape the facade Father's going to construct for him. In a way, the dog below these figures has more freedom than they do. And the couple in "Wedding Contract" are so fitted into their stations and roles in life that on their wedding day, even before they've begun their life together, they already look alike.

To some degree we all construct facades, or have them constructed for us, and live behind them unaware that most likely others see through them fairly easily. Cleaver's handsome sculptures are about us all.

Falling facades

What: "Richard Cleaver: Public Histories, Private Lives"

Where: Rosenberg Gallery, Goucher College, Dulaney Valley Road, Towson

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; evenings and weekends of events in Kraushaar Auditorium; through Dec. 22.

$ Call: (410) 337-6333

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