Facades offer more than meets the eye Art: Ben Marcin's colorful walls have both abstract and more literal meaning.

Fine arts

August 04, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Sometimes what an artist says about his work and what it communicates to the viewer can be totally different. Photographer Ben Marcin's images, in a two-person exhibit at Gomez, show brightly colored house walls and church facades that he encountered on trips to Central and South America.

Marcin writes that the houses' walls offer a contrast to the living conditions of the people. "To me," he writes, "these colorful walls are not just a manifestation of a festive culture but a representation of an ongoing human struggle to overcome extraordinary circumstances."

Such a statement seems to classify these works as documentary photography. But to me they reveal Marcin's remarkable eye for creating beautiful geometric abstractions out of the materials of everyday life. He closes in on his walls to create flat, two-dimensional images in which wall, windows, doors and other elements form Mondrian-like patterns of rectangles in vibrant colors. In pictures such as "Yellow and Red Wall (345) Guatemala," "Blue Wall (348) Guatemala" and "Blue and Yellow Wall (352) Guatemala," the carefully balanced placement of the geometric elements and the richness of color combine to form truly memorable pictures.

The church facade pictures, shot from farther away, include surrounding landscape and sky, which results in weaker images. Marcin's at his best in works that are about aesthetics, not documentation.

In contrast to Marcin's work, Raymond Book's neatly executed sculptures may be superficially abstract, but they possess all sorts of references to living beings and the world around. His spiky wooden constructions suggest the human spine, the rib cage, a fish skeleton, arms reaching upward, the ribs of a ship's hull, the beams supporting a house roof -- showing among other things how man builds in his own image. But these works are too beautifully crafted for their own good; they come across as sterile and lacking life force.

Gomez Gallery at Meadow Mill, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The current show runs through Sunday. For information, call 410-662-9510.

Freudenheim appointed

Tom L. Freudenheim, former director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, has been named deputy director and chief operating officer of the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The appointment was announced by Michael Blumenthal, director and chief executive officer of the museum. Freudenheim will assume the position this fall and will move to Berlin with his wife, Leslie.

The Jewish Museum in Berlin is still under construction. The building, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, is expected to be finished this year. It is due to open to the public officially in 2000, but there may be tours of the building or other activities in the meantime. According to Freudenheim, the museum is in the process of assembling a collection of archives and artifacts. It will have a permanent exhibition dealing with the history of Jews in Germany, but the parameters are not yet certain.

"It may start with Roman times or with the 17th century," Freudenheim says. "It will go up to the present time. It will have art in it but will not be an art museum, and it will not be a Holocaust museum. It will deal with history, art, culture, civilization." There will also be temporary exhibitions, lectures, films and other programs. Freudenheim wants to have an information center about other Jewish sites in Germany and Europe.

Freudenheim, 61, was born in Germany but came to America at the age of nine months in 1938. He was director of the BMA from 1971 to 1978, was head of the museums and humanities programs at Washington's Smithsonian Institution from 1986 to 1995, and is currently executive director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.

Although he plans to take up residence in Berlin with his new position, he does not expect it to be permanent. "I am not repatriating," he says. "I will be retaining my American roots and expect to come back to the States. I don't expect to spend the rest of my life in Berlin."

He remembers nothing from his infancy in Germany but expects the new job to bring some resonances. "It's going to be tough and very interesting and has my name written all over it," he says. "My father was a Judaica dealer in Berlin in the 1920s. There are a whole lot of ghosts."

At the Walters

Those who want to take a last look at the art in the Walters Art Gallery's 1974 building before it closes for an $18.5 million renovation better make plans. The building's second and fourth floors closed in June, and the first and third floors will be open only through Aug. 16. After that, the whole building will be closed and is not expected to reopen until March of 2001. Meanwhile, the original, 1904 building and Hackerman House Museum of Asian Art will remain open.

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