An idea in need of nurturing Art review: At School 33 show, the nature connection may be difficult to find, but the works are worthwhile anyway.

March 18, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

"Intranatura" at School 33 arouses conflicting reactions. It's not a bad show in fact, some of the art is quite good but it's not what it claims to be.

Curated by Olga Viso, assistant curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, it contains the works of eight artists. Viso states in her accompanying essay that "each shares a profound engagement with nature." But some of these works stretch the nature connection so far it becomes meaningless. If Ron Levitan's self-portraits or Don Griffin's canvas sculptures constitute a profound engagement with nature, it's hard to imagine what wouldn't.

Leave aside the supposed theme, however, and you find enough rewarding work to make a worthwhile show. Wendy Ross' burlap sculptures, "Varuna" and "Meta + Morph," definitely relate to nature, its cruelty and its resourcefulness.

In both cases, the hanging burlap forms have been "wounded" they have great holes torn in their sides and both are in the process of healing themselves by producing substances that will close the wound or protect them from future attacks. These are fairly repellent works to look at, but there's nothing wrong with that. They engage the attention and have something to say.

Cheryl Springfels' "murmur" creeps up on you.

The artist covered hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny strips of journal writings with beeswax, then stuck them to the wall in a pattern that looks like a code you want to break but can't. Because of the wax, you can't read the journal entries, and they are like days in a life forgotten. Another pile of strips and pins sits on a nearby table days still to come that will also be forgotten. This piece resonates with wasted lives full of opportunities for connection lost.

Allen's two striped paintings, "Weight" and "Hole in the River," are deeply satisfying on a purely visual level, but they also suggest the flow and the cadences of life. If Springfels gives us a gently pessimistic view of life, Allen's view is quietly optimistic.

Jason Horowitz's photographs of flora suspended in gelatin swing back to the pessimistic side. In one of them, "Still Life No. 22," he introduces toy soldiers, and we realize that of all the things in this picture the only ones not capable of change and growth are those representing humans.

Upstairs at School 33, Barbara Rachko's pastel paintings of surreal domestic scenes can be frightening. They are more so when not paired with the photographs on which Rachko based them. Seeing photograph and pastel side by side leads to a comparison game that leeches the pastels of their effectiveness.

Al Zaruba's installation, "Epilogue," was inspired by his outrage over the thousands upon thousands of Vietnamese refugees boat people who either died in their attempts at escape or today lead wretched lives elsewhere, and whom we in America have forgotten.

The piece doesn't pack as much of a punch as Zaruba's statement about it, but it's heartening to know of someone capable of such rage against injustice. Of the 25,000 refugees in Hong Kong, he writes, "They have raised their children there, in conditions that are only fit for slaughterhouses. They have nothing but cold steel, fear, scorn, indifference, broken dreams and the sky above."

Art show

What: "Intranatura" Where: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St. When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through April 5 Call: (410) 396-4641

Pub Date: 3/18/96

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