'Critic's Picks' full of skill, wit, beauty

March 25, 1997|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Sonia Tassin has 59 paintings on view at Maryland Art Place, which sounds like a major retrospective, but she's only one of 13 artists in this year's "Critics' Picks" exhibit.

You might wonder if they've rented a warehouse for the occasion; but no, everything fits into MAP's Saratoga Street galleries, and everything looks fine.

This year's resident critics were New Yorkers Barry Schwabsky, formerly editor of Arts magazine, and Nancy Princenthal, free-lance critic and curator. They spent a December week in residency. They looked at art with an eye to picking some distinguished local work for this show, and conferred with writers who are honing their skills as critics. In selecting the artists for this show, they chose well. Though there's no overall theme to the show, and the works range from the satisfying to the funny to the provocative to the beautiful, they're all worthwhile.

Tassin's works are in the satisfying category. Her small paintings, averaging about 12-by-15 inches, are arranged in two large side-by-side groupings under the titles "Louisiana" and "Vermont." Together they form an installation that, while abstract, refers to life in the country and evokes it. Her individual works don't exactly look like their titles, but they look something like their titles, which is even better. "Languid Laundry Line" has droopy-swoopy lines in it, and "Grabber, Crabber Wallop You, Grabber Crabber Hollow Hue" isn't quite a crab but it's a water creature with a claw.

For funny, there are the photographic images printed on fake fur by Kate FurrAll (as Kate Farrall styles herself for this show). "Never Better" shows a woman with an impossibly enormous hairdo screaming her lungs out. And "Hon Ego" presents a trio of images: a bee, a beehive and a can of Aqua Net hair spray. Get it? If not, you're not a Baltimoron.

Timothy Blum's "Eye of the Needle" is funny, too, and has a zinger of a point. A camel, 7 feet tall and 9 feet long, made of fiberglass, has a "skin" composed of tobacco leaves. It's surrounded with a half-dozen humidifiers to keep the tobacco leaves from drying up and falling off. Humidifiers plus camel make the whole thing the stuff of a good guffaw. But its purpose is serious. You can't look at a camel without thinking of a pack of cigarettes, which shows the insidious nature of advertising.

For provocative, there are Stephen March's "Vietnam Elegy" paintings, in which scenes of mountain or jungle look like they're melting and dissolving. Perhaps saying we flushed our honor and our ideals down the drain with all the needless blood lost in Vietnam. The surface of "Vietnam Elegy (Going Home)," showing soldiers and a helicopter, looks so liquid it's as if the whole world is weeping. Weeping, perhaps, for men who will occupy some circle of hell for having done their best in the wrong cause.

Peter Dubeau's paintings are provocative psychologically. In the two pictures' foregrounds are fences, one of slats and one of chain links, that keep us separated from the more nebulous realm beyond. But the slat fence doesn't extend all the way across the picture's surface, and the chain link fence looks soft and bendable. We could get through or around if we wanted to -- but we're not sure what's there, and we hold back through fear of the unknown. These pictures suggest we construct both external facades others hesitate to penetrate and internal barriers to memory.

And for beautiful, there are the tiny painted bas reliefs of Gary Kachadourian, as small as 1 1/2 -by-2 1/2 -by-1 1/2 inches. They depict everyday events in the simplest way, and have everyday titles to match: A guy starting his lawn mower ("Lawn Mower"), a man and his two sons watching a train go by on a railroad bridge ("Bridge"). These aren't especially beautiful in a purely visual sense, but they're spiritually beautiful -- testifying to the beauty of daily life.

MAP

Where: 218 W. Saratoga St.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through April 19

Call: (410) 962-8565 There will be a public forum with resident critics and local writers at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 12

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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