Free as a bird Art: Painter Joan Erbe's sharpened edge and imagination result in an unusually delightful, insightful show at Gomez Gallery.

November 03, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Joan Erbe has always been fascinated with the unusual. Recently she found three of her childhood drawings, from the 1930s, and just for fun they're included in her current show at the Gomez Gallery. Their subject matter is the circus.

Over the decades she has developed a style in which weird-looking characters in colorful costumes find themselves in abnormal situations. These pictures combine a childlike interest in strange creatures and an atmosphere that's slightly unset- tling and sometimes almost sinister. And for all their outlandishness, they're often psychologically pertinent.

In "A Dance with the Devil," a young woman dances with a horned, satanic-looking figure. It's a picture about the appeal that evil has even for people who are themselves good.

The show combines recent work with a few pieces from the 1960s and 1970s to show how Erbe has developed. The earlier works share odd characters and situations with the current ones, but they're softer in look and tone. Her work has become brighter, edgier, the product of a freer imagination.

"Parrot Talk" from 1975 and "A Dancing Chicken" from 1998 have a lot in common; both feature a person and a bird. But in the earlier picture, the bird simply perches on the person's shoulder. In the later one, a fellow dressed in a clown costume holds a plate on which dances a chicken wearing red high heels.

The recent picture's funnier; its inhabitants have more interesting expressions; it's more ambiguous and open to interpretation. Does the chicken represent women, and if so, does the picture mean that women still have to dance to the tune of men, even though men are clowns?

Erbe's work has always carried a lot of interest, but this exhibit shows how much sharper, funnier and deeper she's become over the years. A little bird (not the chicken or the parrot) tells me she's just had a birthday. Here's wishing her many more.

Gomez Gallery, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, is open 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The show runs through Nov. 22. Call 410-662-9510.

A beauty at MICA

As part of its celebration of Fred Lazarus' 20 years as president, the Maryland Institute, College of Art has established "The XX Anniversary Residency Series: On Beauty." During the academic year, five people will come to the institute for &r weeklong residencies.Each will give a public lecture as part of the residency.

The series will focus on beauty: Is the idea of beauty always the same, or does it change? Who defines it? What assumptions surround it? Is it relevant to such concepts as truth, value and desire?

The first residency, currently under way, is that of David Abram, an ecologist, philosopher, anthropologist and author, who will lecture at 8 p.m. Thursday. Abram, a former faculty member of the State University of New York, is the author of "The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World." The book deals with how humans have distanced themselves from the rest of the natural world, and how the process might be reversed.

Others in the residency series are Manthia Diawara, professor of comparative literature and film at New York University, who will be in residence at the end of January and the beginning of February (lecture Jan. 26); Bernice Johnson Reagan, cultural historian, singer and expert on black oral traditions in the rural South, who will be in residence March 15-19 (lecture March 16); Lisa Phillips, curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, who will be in residence April 12-16 (lecture April 13); and Dave Hickey, art critic and professor of criticism, who will be in residence April 26-30 (lecture April 27).

Abram's lecture will be in the auditorium of the Mount Royal Station building at Cathedral Street and Mount Royal Avenue. Call 410-225-2300.

Community art projects

The Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation has announced a nationwide artist-in-residence program to create community art projects in every state and jurisdiction of the United States in the year 2000. The program will be funded by $1.5 million from the National Endowment for the Arts over the next two years, to be matched by funds raised from private sources.

The program will place artists of many disciplines, from visual artists to choreographers and poets to composers, in host community organizations across the country. They will work on projects related to one of five issue-based themes: family, health, cultural diversity, values and community. Residencies will last from six to nine months.

The program is a collaborative effort by six regional arts organizations: Mid-Atlantic, based in Baltimore, which administers the program; Arts Midwest, based in Minneapolis; Mid-America Arts Alliance, based in Kansas City; New England Foundation for the Arts, based in Boston; the Southern Arts Federation, based in Atlanta; and the Western States Arts Federation, based in Denver.

According to Matthew Brown, communications manager for Mid-Atlantic, the program seeks professional artists who have some experience in community-oriented residencies. For information and applications, write Project Coordinator, "Artists and Communities," Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, 22 Light St., Baltimore, Md. 21202; or phone 800-697-0143.

Van Gogh passes

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has changed its policy on issuing same-day passes for its extremely popular show "Van Gogh's Van Goghs," which runs through Jan. 3. The gallery now gives a limit of four same-day passes per person instead of six. A gallery publication said the reason was to permit wider distribution of the passes.

About 2,000 same-day passes are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis daily beginning at 10 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. Sundays. The passes are given out at the entrance at Constitution Avenue at 6th Street N.W.

Pub Date: 11/03/98

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