Suffering, death in sculpture Art review: Belgian Van Oost makes American debut here.

April 09, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Jan Van Oost, a Belgian sculptor having his first one-person American show at Grimaldis, brings to it recent work that's both a departure from and a continuation of his earlier art.

In the past, he has shown mirrored coffins. He has shown mirrors draped in black. He has shown a table on which lay a cane and a single bullet standing in a dish -- a work about suicide, he says. More recently, he showed sculptures of women, completely dressed in black, crouched in a corner or lying on the floor of a gallery, turned away so the viewer can't see their faces. One senses an obvious preoccupation with death and with suffering, whether physical or spiritual, running through this work.

At Grimaldis, he exhibits just five white plaster sculptures of nude female torsos, lying on clunky-looking wooden pedestals and turned toward the wall. Being white and marble-like, these works immediately bring to mind classical sculptures, so they suggest postmodernist quotations from the past. But they're a kind of ironic twist on that: a classical statue would have been made whole and would have become a torso through a process of loss. These were made with the parts missing; they appear to mock an art which slavishly quotes only from what's left of past art, forgetting that the essence of that past art was its relation to life.

On another level, these works are directly related to life, and to what life brings; for like Van Oost's earlier work, there is a preoccupation here with suffering and death. These works are mutilated or diseased, scarred with gashes or bulging with tumor-like protuberances. Their positions vary, and the body language of each implies a different state: pain, resignation, anxiety, fear, fatigue. Their

crude wooden pedestals are the coffins that await them.

But there's a certain purity, these white forms suggest, to be gained from the agonies that life brings. In that they project a kind of faith in the ability of the "long disease" of life to purify the soul.

In the rear gallery at Grimaldis, the photographs of Neil A. Meyerhoff show him continuing to develop, although this uneven selection would have been better without the city scenes and snow-covered mountains. The best of Meyerhoff's works here are landscapes notable for light, for composition, or both. "Summer Clouds, Lake Champlain, Vermont" possesses an abstract composition emphasized by a triangle of nearby grasses at the lower right and punctuated by a building behind -- the picture flows out from these, and back to them.

The light in "Hay Bales and Tractor Tracks, Butler Road, Maryland" is so spooky we don't know if we're looking at a dark day or an artificially lighted night. In "Corn and Alfalfa, Mt. Zion Road, Maryland" there's a compositional dialogue between the straight and the curved that's self-conscious looking, but not unsatisfying.

Sculpture, photos

What: Jan Van Oost sculpture; Neil A. Meyerhoff photographs

Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 North Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through April 27

Call: (410) 539-1080.

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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