Those artists collect the darndest things

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

If anyone had asked me what I thought artists collected, I probably would have said, "Each other's art, I guess." And surely they do, but as the exhibit now at Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery shows, they collect a lot of other stuff, too: picture postcards, dead leaves, old clothes, pieces of chairs, souvenir glasses, appliance parts, handkerchiefs and even broken crockery.

The show, called "Artist as Collector," was inspired by the exhibit "A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum," now at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Just as the V&A has collected everything from paintings and furniture to shoes and radios, so artists are eclectic collectors, too. And what they collect often finds its way into what they create, sometimes as a means of inspiration but often literally.

The exhibit was suggested by Bill Schmidt, a local sculptor who collects such things as chair parts and toy boats and makes them into semi-abstract sculptures whose understated elegance belies their origins. Out of 120 applicants who responded to a national call for entries, 13 were selected by Schmidt and Goucher exhibitions director Helen Glazer from as near as Baltimore and as far as Bozeman, Mont. They put together a show of the artists' art together with examples from their collections. The result is a hodgepodge that ranges from the admirable to the unusual to the pretty darn bad.

In the last category belong the kitschy paintings of Matthew Dimock, who collects toys representing popular culture figures and then paints pictures of Spider-man, the characters from "Star Wars" and so on, all done in comic book colors. Surely among the 107 rejected applicants there were some whose work merited inclusion more than this.

In the admirable category, put Christine Neill, who collects botanical specimens (leaves, plants, etc.), and uses them in her work. For some of her solar plate etchings, she combines a drawing and actual plants on a photo-sensitive plate and exposes them to light. "Amaryllis" and "Strelitzia and Elm" have an intensity of mood, a sense of fortitude in the face of adversity, that mark them as among the best work Neill has shown in some time.

Pat Long Gardner collects printed handkerchiefs and makes them into handsome quilts notable for their designs and colors. Jo Smail collects Ndebele beadwork from Africa, which is itself a fine art, and the two examples of it here are among the best works on view. Smail's asymmetrically patterned pink and white paintings at first glance seem little like the beadwork, but the two share a similar weight of character.

In the unusual category one could put the work of several artists, none more so than that of Maria-Theresa Fernandez, who collects Victorian clothes, hats, jewelry and other personal items and uses them in sculptures that resemble the clothed upper portions of women's bodies. The ones here are from the "Courtesan Series," inspired by tales of 19th-century prostitutes of the American West. There's something tragic and almost noble about these gussied-up half figures.

This is a strange exhibit, inconsistent aesthetically and ugly as an installation. But it has its moments.

At Goucher

Where: Rosenberg Gallery, Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and evening and weekend hours when events are scheduled in Kraushaar

Auditorium; through Dec. 19

Call: 410-337-6333

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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