Humor clearly has its place in MAP's ArtSites 96 show Review: Gallery makes light of stuffy stands by Baltimore art directors with "Too Much Fun (for Tex and Brenda)."

June 01, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Two years ago, ArtSites began in the Washington area as a juried biennial exhibit of regional artists, involving not one but six galleries. Organized by Washington's Corcoran Gallery and Corcoran School of Art, it proved such a success that this year it has expanded to 11 sites including Maryland Art Place and School 33 in Baltimore.

Although centrally administered by Corcoran School of Art dean Samuel Hoi, ArtSites consists of 11 separate shows with a curator for each gallery.

Maryland Art Place director Jack Rasmussen and School 33 director Claudia Amory served as their galleries' curators with successful results. The Art Place's show, titled "Too Much Fun (for Tex and Brenda)," has a theme inspired by a remark of program director Tex Andrews, that "I'm not a big fan of 'fun' art. I can't think of a single masterpiece that's fun. I can't even think of much good art that's fun."

When Baltimore Museum of Art deputy director Brenda Richardson agreed, Rasmussen decided to prove them wrong.

The show works best if we take "fun" in a broad sense to embrace everything from art that you actually laugh at to art that's lighthearted, whimsical or satirical.

The funniest artist here is A. Clarke Bedford, who makes little sculptures based on art history but introduces ridiculous elements -- a Greek architectural ruin with stalks of asparagus as the columns, a Gothic portal with Barbie dolls as the sculpted saints. He then photographs them in the style of 19th century architectural photography, investing them with a deadly serious aura that makes them even funnier.

Tara Donovan's sculptures make fun of minimalist austerity through the use of materials in baroque profusion. Her "Controlled Caging" looks from a distance like two cubes of wood. They're actually made of a million toothpicks. Her "Analogous" is a wall full of balloons filled with sand. They look like eggs, or maybe little breasts, which is funny, but like the cubes this has a handsome presence that works as a foil for its humorous side.

Allegra Marquardt's large group of drawings, prints and paintings -- no fewer than 59 -- make light of life's embarrassing moments and daily frustrations. In "Early Discovery/In the Grass" a car's headlights catch a couple coupling. These also show Marquardt proficient in a range of media.

The other artists are less directly funny but each has a point. Ed Bisese's sprightly looking cement sculptures with severed parts offer a satire on modern kitsch art that pretends to high status by imitating masterpieces: hairy-chested "Saint Chop-Off" has lost his arms, a la the Venus de Milo.

The bright colors added to Lee E. Haner's wall-hung boxes make fun of their minimalist ancestry. Sandra P. Camomile offers 10 boxes containing decorated fingernails created by actual fingernail decorating artists.

Are these poking fun at a recent fad, or commenting on the roles women must play, or a little of both? Maybe that will be clarified by Camomile's performance during this afternoon's 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. opening reception.

The works

The seven artists in School 33's untitled show explore aspects of identity, according to Amory. At first, the theme seems somewhat far-fetched, but the more you think about it the more neatly it fits these artists.

Kendall Buster's "Denying Narcissus" and Siemon Allen's "Elegy" look as if they were made to be seen together. Allen's seven

10-foot-tall panels of woven black videotape provide a dark mirror reflecting Buster's bulbous, cage-like construction of steel rods and screening. Both these works have to do with technology and how it affects human life, but apart from that they complement each other so well visually that one wishes they could always be seen in this juxtaposition.

In David Mordini's installation "Heads," the seven heads sculpted from laminated wood are bereft of the outer trappings that distinguish us from one another -- clothes, hair, even individual facial features; they all look alike save for minuscule variations of expression. These could imply that the exterior makes no difference, or that it makes all the difference.

Wayne Edson Bryan's "Purple Gang II/The Herald's Blend" addresses much the same question. A group of heraldic plaques look machine-made but were carefully handmade by the artist. Each bears a different name, but all are of the same design with minor variations. Here again the artist asks us to decide if it's the separateness or the sameness that makes no difference.

Don Cook's installation "The Book of Sol" employs sculpture, texts and drawings to declare individuality an illusion, given the external forces that shape us. Similarly, Michelle Rogers combines antique postcards with her own photographs to question the self-determination we would like to have. And Kevin MacDonald's series of drawings called "The Elements" brings together scientific and religious symbols to praise the mystery of creation.

ArtSites 96

Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.; School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St.

When: Maryland Art Place hours 11 a.m to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; School 33 hours 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; both shows through July 27

Call: Maryland Art Place, (410) 962-8565; School 33, (410) 396-4641

Note: Both galleries will have opening receptions from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. today

Pub Date: 6/01/96

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