Sculpture exhibition is sparse Review: Sal Scarpitta's creations are fascinating, but show at Maryland Institute cries out for more works.

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

Judging by what's on view in the Maryland Institute's exhibit "Spaces and Forms Part I," more ought to be on view. What we have doesn't add up to an especially exciting exhibit.

A sculpture show that comes in two parts, with "Part II" due early next year, "Spaces and Forms" is loosely tied to the 1996 centennial of the institute's Rinehart School of Sculpture. Most of the artists were recommended by Rinehart director Norman Carlberg.

Maybe one or two of the seven artists scheduled for "Part II" should have joined the four in "Part I," for the galleries have a somewhat under-populated look. Or maybe we could have had more works by some of the present four, because as it is they leave too little an impression.

The notable exception is Sal Scarpitta, well represented by 19 works ranging from drawings and wall-mounted sculptures to "Sling Shot," which looks like an accident that's already happened and makes us weep for an inanimate object and laugh at ourselves for doing so.

Projecting from the wall, and backed by a canvas tarp and sections of fence, is the steel frame of a racing car bound up in industrial slings, as if it's bandaged all over and recuperating from some horrible wreck. We can only imagine what happened to the driver, but Scarpitta has slyly engaged our sympathies not for the person but for the car before us. It's a fairly ridiculous proposition, which makes this work at once horrifying and amusing.

Scarpitta has an ability to create pieces that fascinate precisely because they arouse conflicting emotions. His series of 11 ink drawings called "Mud Runner" give us the face and hands of what appears to be a driver nearly obliterated by mud. It's a grim series, but at the same time it has its humorous side, allied to slapstick, pie-in-the-face comedy.

If only the other artists here elicited the same liveliness of reaction.

Tom Clancy's lone contribution, "Ibis," is also a car -- or parts of one. He's gutted a Ford of everything except its steel skin, cut that up into nine parts and painted them white. This is like "a skeleton that's been exposed to the elements for a long period of time," according to Clancy. Maybe it's saying something about the death of industrial America, or the car (consumerism, materialism) as a false god. But, perhaps because it has the misfortune to be seen in the context of Scarpitta's more resonant car piece, it just lies there like a tired ghost that doesn't have the energy to say "Boo!"

The other two artists' works address the show's title more directly. Kendall Buster's three metal sculptures, obviously placed with great care in the gallery allotted to her, deal with forms enclosing space, forms intruding on space and forms within a space relating to one another and to the space. Individually, however, none of these works has the same elegant, creepy, threatening and enticing qualities of Buster's "Denying Narcissus," seen earlier this year at School 33.

As Buster's forms relate to enclosed space, Mary Miss' works relate to open space: They are site-specific installations around the country, from New York to Illinois to Washington state. Her contributions to this show consist of two-dimensional studies for several of those installations. From what we can see, the artist combines a response to place and to materials (especially wood) with an ability to endow her installations with a sense of discovery within an overall order. These studies also reveal, however, certain similarities of approach in terms of materials and design that may be more appropriate for some sites than for others. And why is there nothing here later than 1987? We want to see what she's been up to in recent years.

Art Review

What: "Spaces and Forms Part I"

Where: Maryland Institute, College of Art Mount Royal Station building, Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street, and Fox building, Mount Royal and Lafayette avenues

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays (to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays) and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 20

Call: (410) 225-2300

Pub Date: 12/01/96

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