Sizing up new faculty, sizing up their art Review: Maren Hassinger's sensitive sculpture is open to interpretation. Meaning, it seems, she'll be open to various styles.

September 02, 1997|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

"Introductions" at the Maryland Institute, College of Art

doesn't hold together as an art show, but it's not meant to. The five artists represented are brought together not for any thematic reason but because they're new faculty members.

One of them, Maren Hassinger, is the new director of the #F Rinehart School of Sculpture. As head of the graduate sculpture program, she will play a crucial role in bringing young sculptors here to study, create and perhaps even settle in Baltimore. What her art looks like may have some bearing on the art we see around us in years to come.

The institute's press release makes her work sound like a major departure from that of her predecessor, Norman Carlberg. "While always formally compelling and poetic," it quotes institute dean Ray Allen, "her work is heavily content based and repeatedly confronts issues which grow out of her status as a woman and an African-American."

So in place of Carlberg's cool, timeless geometric abstractions, it would seem, we are going to get hot polemics on timely socio-political issues.

The sculptures in this exhibit, however, show that attention should be paid to the first part of Allen's statement. The immediate impression is of understated, elegant, indeed poetic works, more formal and abstract than they are content-laden and issue-oriented.

The largest, an installation called "Paradise," consists of lengths of vertical metal rope embedded in rows of concrete. This well-ordered little forest of industrial materials has an austere, almost minimalist beauty. Similarly, "Consolation" consists of rows of much smaller strands of metal rope hung on a wall, each one unraveling at the top so that it resembles the trunk and branches of a palm tree. And "Window Box," another concrete-embedded row of rope that unravels at the top, could well be a severe, almost abstract depiction of a row of plants in a window box.

But think about these works a bit, and other associations come to mind. "Paradise" can be seen as regimented rows of slaves, straining to be free but tethered to the land they are forced to work for someone else's profit. The "trees" of "Consolation" could just as well be whips. And the row of "plants" in "Window Box" could just as well be bars on a prison window.

It all depends on how you look at us, these works say, and fortunately Hassinger has fashioned these sculptures to be open and welcoming to the viewer's response. One can also infer from her multi-layered works an openness on Hassinger's part to a wide range of forms and ideas.

Among the other artists in "Introductions," photographer Anthony Aziz's two large-scale color photos deal with dehumanization in modern life. One is a nude man with all indications of gender eliminated, so that his torso looks like that of a mannequin. The other shows a head with the features eliminated.

John Ferry, an illustrator, weighs in with a series of small paintings of urban structures. The writing and graphic design team of Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, new co-chairs of the institute's visual communication department, show an impressive group of their publications, including their book "Design Writing Research: Writings on Graphic Design."


Where: Decker Gallery, Mount Royal Station Building, Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday; through Sept. 6

Call: 410-225-2300

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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