BMA print show positively beautiful Review: Artists' imagery and curator's design in Link/Benesch galleries are both inviting and uplifting.

March 10, 1997|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

It's not often that an exhibit, as an installed entity, looks as handsome as "BMA Collects: Contemporary Prints in Series" at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The Link/Benesch galleries, devoted to prints and drawings and inaugurated at the time the west wing for contemporary art opened in 1994, provide an unusually attractive setting for art in the first place.

Two slightly unequal rectangular spaces with double glass doors at either end, they're neat, tailored looking, restful in their proportions.

Shows of separate individual works look good here. And the current show of works in series of from three to 10 images, extremely well placed by curator Jan Howard, looks even better. Like a well-designed room in which the placement of objects makes you comfortable the instant you walk into it, these spaces and the works of art in them form an aesthetically pleasing composition. It feels right around you and makes you want to linger.

Juxtapositions work well, too. The severe abstract geometries of Donald Judd's series of 10 prints called "Untitled" (1988) have been hung five over five to form a horizontal rectangle. This arrangement is balanced by the more organic look of the nine photographs in Barbara Kruger's "Untitled" (1985), arranged in a square of three rows of three.

The irregular pentagonal shape repeated five times in Jennifer Bartlett's "Graceland Mansions" (1979) calls across the gallery to the similar shapes in Roy Lichtenstein's "Haystack #1-#7." And there's a difference here to balance nicely the similarity. Lichtenstein's dotted surfaces all resemble one another and look machine-made. Each print in the Bartlett series looks handmade and different from all the others because they were produced by different methods -- drypoint, aquatint, screenprint, woodcut, lithograph.

There's another especially satisfying aspect of this show, both in terms of the works individually and taken as a group. It's easy to think that life is ugly and that art, reflecting life, has grown ugly, too. And it's true -- and probably good -- that much of the art we see can be hard to take. Art shouldn't shrink from life and shut itself up in a tower.

But we need to be reminded of the positive, too.

Most of these works are quite beautiful, whether we're talking about the austere images of Judd and Frank Stella, Bartlett's sensuous surfaces or Lichtenstein's deeply emotive colors. They remind us that the impulse to beauty doesn't die, that it's one of the deepest, most enduring and finest qualities of the human mind.

And now a gripe. The disadvantage of seeing shows in these galleries is that two video screens just outside them play various art-related programs. The drone of the narration is a source of distraction and annoyance to people inside. Must those screens be there? Can't they be moved to someplace farther away from galleries? Or could headphones be provided for those watching the videos, so the rest of us could experience the serene and quiet contemplation of art?

'BMA Collects'

What: "BMA Collects: Contemporary Prints in Series"

Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st streets

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through March 23

Admission: $5.50 adults, $3.50 seniors and students, $1.50 ages 7-18

Call: (410) 396-7100

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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