Visiting art critics pick 20 for exhibit Art review: Painting is emphasized in Maryland Art Place exhibit.

March 04, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Each year, Maryland Art Place has a visiting critics program, in which out-of-town critics visit local artists' studios for critiquing sessions and make selections of their works for a "Critics' Picks" exhibit at MAP. Artforum. The show they have put together, including works of 10 artists selected by each critic, has no particular theme or emphasis -- except that painting seems especially strong here. But they have picked well, for all of these artists are worth seeing and some make particularly good impressions.

Among them is Catherine Jones, whose subtly painted and gently lighted landscapes combine the vaguely menacing with the reassuringly beautiful. Her gray mists provide the eye a sensual treat, although an austere one, but at the same time they leave the unsettling impression that something unpleasant may be about to happen, or may even be happening just beyond what we can make out.

Mary Beth Muscara's paintings, especially "Blue Head," recall surrealism in their unlikely juxtapositions of elements that look as if they're about to add up to something rational but remain elusive. They are autobiographical, but because they're never really specific, they might relate to the viewer as well as the artist, and they tantalize us with the sense that they're about to impart a truth.

Carol Westphal's paintings are deceptive in both their small size and their bright colors. They look such cheerful little things that it's a jolt to realize they depict moments of great violence and horror in recent American history, as their titles attest: "The Assassination of J.F.K.," "The Oklahoma City Court House Bombing," "Flower Children vs. the National Guard at K.S.U." These are the most disturbing works in the show, for they belie their bright look by darkly suggesting America has become a country of such madness that the only way we can deal with it may be to celebrate it. In fact, we may already be celebrating it, considering how the media gorge us with news of such acts, and how we devour it.

Nancy Wallace incorporates letters of the alphabet into her vividly colored paintings to create designs of significant appeal and good humor. Occasionally one can put the letters together to make a word, such as "Melt" in the painting "M & R," but it doesn't seem the artist wants us to "read" these works. They're quite satisfying enough on a purely visual level.

Tom Witt has created a small installation that invites viewer participation and results in a sobering experience. Behind a V-shaped curtain, a chair faces a table on which stands a mirror. Sitting in the chair and looking at the mirror, you see reflected, through the building's front window, a slice of the outside scene: the cornice of a building across the street, the corner of another building, a bit of sky. If you sit there a while, occasionally you'll see a bird fly by, but nothing else happens. As interest in the cityscape composition wanes, you begin to think, suppose this were a prison and that were all of the world I could see. Then you think about how many people are in prison or otherwise confined. Then you realize that one day, not long from now in the grand scheme of things, you won't see even that much of the world.

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