Artists, on the road to somewhere

September 04, 1997|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC xTC

School 33's current studio artists' biennial isn't as good as some of its predecessors in the series. Among its nine artists, none especially stands out, and so the show fails to make a strong impression.

But it's a testament to one of this institution's valuable programs.

School 33 Art Center mounts about 20 shows a year in its three separate exhibit spaces, making it one of the busiest and most vital art venues on the scene.

It does much more than organize shows, though. This city-operated agency in a former South Baltimore school building also runs art classes. It organizes an open studio tour one weekend a year, when the public can visit scores of artists' studios all over town. And it rents nine studios in its own building to artists, who can have the space for up to two years.

Once every two years, there's a show for all studio artists. Of the current crop, some look as if they are en route to a fully developed means of expression; others look as if they've reached a plateau.

Among the first group, Jennifer Merriman's "Dreams and Symbols," an installation of wall-hung ceramic sculptures, deals with symbols taken from her dreams. Perhaps the repeated imagery of a woman's face, a satyr and a female centaur forms a narrative through these successive pieces. If so, it doesn't read clearly, and so they appear somewhat repetitive.

Gary Thompson's jittery, dark, black-and-white photographs look like stills from a film noir shot with a hand-held camera. Some of them work, such as "Key West, Florida," with its dramatic trees that look lashed by a hurricane. Others don't, making this an uneven group.

Frank Smith's "Afro DC Act" is the largest and strongest of his mixed-media works incorporating painting, printed cloth and thread. The colors and patterning of these works arrest the eye but don't sustain interest.

Nancy Linden's "A Wall," an installation fashioned from drawings and collage elements, doesn't add up to a unified work of art. It remains a lot of pieces put together. Ritamarie Moscola's drawings and boxes have the feel of tryouts for more complete works to come.

The other artists here have given us more finished products, but it's hard to tell whether their visions are growing or static. Ruri Yi creates accomplished, small, impressionist paintings, including "Twin Tree I and II (Millersville)." In Lea Feinstein's "Dialogues of the Carmelites," the series of twine-wrapped dolls comments on both difficulties of communication and the status of women.

Lee Zimmerman's "Legacy," made of basketry interconnected with tree branches, has to do with the artist's extended family, a number of whom died of cancer. The work can suggest both an extended family and a growing cancer. Annette Wilson Jones charms with her "One Hundred Small Tomatoes," ceramic tomatoes exhibited on old household objects, including a wonderful wooden ironing board.

Upstairs in the Gallery II space, Sue Johnson's "Alternate Encyclopedia" is a fascinating installation of two-dimensional works on paper and three-dimensional objects. It makes both historical and ecological points. Her pictures of imaginary composite creatures, such as "Rabbit Bush" and "Wasp Nest Tail Black-headed Oriole," remind us of some of the more fanciful creatures once thought to be real, such as the unicorn. But they also remind us of how many species have become extinct. Johnson reinforces that point with real objects that remind us of some of the appalling reasons animals have been killed: an armadillo basket; a deer-foot ash tray; a fawn handle letter opener.

School art

What: "1997 Studio Artists' Biennial" and "The Alternate Encyclopedia"

Where: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St.

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through Oct. 3

Call: 410-396-4641

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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