Bits and pieces Art review: Their approaches are similar but because three artists use different items, the results are very different.

January 20, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

The current show at the Gomez Gallery features three artists who, in their similarities and differences, complement one another nicely. Each creates images out of disparate objects assembled from various sources. But they use different kinds of materials, work in different media and achieve quite different effects.

Fred Otnes, whose works occupy the principal space, creates collages that combine visual elements from many sources: Renais- sance paintings, fragments of printed text or handwriting, pictures of buildings, cut-up photographs, astronomical charts, bits and pieces of leaves or thread.

Employing an elegant, understated palette mainly of white, brown, gray and black, Otnes' images are both handsome and

subtle. They work as intriguing puzzles: What do a 12-inch ruler, a Renaissance portrait of a woman, a flying bird and the handwritten words "May 3 by cash of Zimrie Carpenter for " add up to? On a playful level they invite the storyteller in the viewer to put imagination to work.

They also suggest the complexities of the human mind, which contains so much and into whose consciousness unexpected memories or bits of knowledge or visual images may float at any time, prompted by something below the level of consciousness.

They don't, however, suggest any deeper meaning, any decipherable rumination on art or life, but are content to exist as objects of beauty and extraordinarily good taste. The best art does more than that, but there's an awful lot of art that does much less.

Arthur Tress' "The Teapot Opera" is a series of 43 photographs. For each, Tress arranged antiques and flea-market objects into a surrealistic tableau on a toy stage. The series, arranged in order, tells a story that has something to do with a search for secrets in strange places.

The entire "Teapot Opera" was published in 1988 as a book, now out of print. Twenty-nine of the photographs are being shown at Gomez. Fortunately, the book is also on view, so one can follow the story in its entirety and in sequence. Because not only is part of the series not here, but the order of hanging the rest is not in sequence. Thus one can't get any sense of the story from looking at the exhibit alone.

Of course, the entire story gives these images a level of meaning they don't have without it. But the individual pictures are visually rich, often fascinating and sometimes quite funny. "Where They Came Upon Fantastic Creatures and Strange Botanical Species" shows an alligator, mostly covered in jewelry and leaves, being walked on a rope leash by a porcelain figurine of a man dressed in knee breeches and sporting a crab claw for a head, in a natural setting suggesting the garden of Eden and complete with bird, monkey and snake. It makes one smile, but it's also lushly appealing to look at, as are many of these small works.

Dorothy Magallon makes sculptural assemblages of combinations of objects -- metal dress forms, pieces of dolls, metal stands, human hair and so on -- that have sometimes decipherable messages.

Of the eight here, the largest and most interesting is "Empty Rituals." Two doll figures with cannons standing near them face one another, with a cross on a decorative stand between them. This may mean religion at its most well-intentioned can do nothing to stop wars, or religion at its worst causes wars, or both. Some of her other assemblages are interpretation-friendly, but others look a bit too arcane for their own good.

Three artists

What: Works by Fred Otnes, Arthur Tress, Dorothy Magallon

Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; through Feb. 1

Call: 410-752-2080

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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