Retrospective shows beauty in detail Art: Barry Nemett's work marries nature and nuance in works filled with imagery

Fine Arts

November 17, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

The retrospective of Barry Nemett's work now appearing at Goucher shows clearly what this artist does best.

It reaches back to the late 1960s and encompasses more than 100 works, the vast majority of which are small- to medium-scale. Most are drawings and gouaches (a form of watercolor) of birds, animals, trees, books and the like. They reveal a superb draftsman, a colorist of nuance and subtlety, a lover of nature and books who can make them sing with that love in works such as "Couple" (two books) or "Zebras."

Nemett also creates large works, however. Eight works in the Rosenberg gallery section of this show are large composite or assemblage pictures. Up to 10 feet or more in one dimension, these are mostly made of multiple small images gathered into one large picture that presents itself simultaneously as an overall design and its individual components.

Often including words (sometimes by poet Richard Kalter), Nemett's composites, such as "An Owl's Tale" or "Sideglances," suggest narratives whose meanings can be plumbed with careful, bit-by-bit perusal of the work. But these big works bombard the eye with so much imagery that the result is visual overload, so it's almost impossible to focus on the individual detail. As a result, much that's beautiful gets lost -- one can't see the trees for the forest or the forest for the trees.

The exhibit also includes a room-sized installation in the Corrin gallery of the Meyerhoff building, not far from the Rosenberg gallery. Called "Crooked Tracks," the installation is the companion piece to a novel Nemett has written and appears to have a strong component of memory. The installation is much better realized here than in a recent show at the Maryland Institute, College of Art.

But Nemett's small works remain the best of his art. Fortunately, he continues to produce them. The Rosenberg Gallery is in the Dorsey College Center at Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, north of Towson. It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and on evenings and weekends of events in Kraushaar auditorium. The exhibit continues through Dec. 19. Call 410-337-6333.

Fine 'Essentials'

The Harry N. Abrams Company, publisher of art books grandly produced and grandly priced, has gone in the other direction with the introduction of a series of small-scale hardback monographs on individual artists, called collectively "The Essentials." So far there are four, "The Essential Vincent van Gogh," and ditto Edward Hopper, Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock. Each book is 6 inches square, just over 100 pages long, illustrated with about 50 pictures of the artist's work, priced at $12.95 and written by an art critic and/or art historian.

I read "The Essential Edward Hopper," by Justin Spring, critic for Artforum magazine and author of a book on painter Wolf Kahn. It took me under two hours, and I proceeded deliberately. One could probably do a really fast read in an hour. The book is easy to understand, informative, and gave as advertised the essentials about Hopper's life and work. It's also useful as a visual reference; probably nowhere else can one get so many color illustrations of the artist's work for an equal price.

As usual, Spring asserts (correctly) that Hopper's work is about spiritual isolation. But he makes the common mistake of over-emphasizing 20th-century urban industrial life as the cause of that isolation, which interprets Hopper too narrowly.

The settings of Hopper's works were primarily urban, because that's where he primarily lived. But Hopper's people are no less isolated when placed in non-urban settings, such as "Ground Swell" (1939), "Cape Cod Morning" (1950), "People in the Sun" (1960) and the jarring "Sunlight on Brownstones" (1956). In this, two people on the steps of an obviously urban row of brownstones look out at a countryside scene; it makes most clearly Hopper's point that whatever the time or place or circumstances, the human spirit is alone. The isolation of the human spirit is as old as the human spirit, and Hopper had sense enough to understand that.

Lowe point

Jean Lowe's an artist who can be funny and serious at the same time. Her satirical installations of room furnishings skewer the hypocrisies, fetishes and injustices of the contemporary world in a rollicking way that makes the viewer giggle, even though he's conscious that he's the target of these barbs.

Lowe's current show at Galerie Francoise, however, seems nowhere near as sharp as her previous show in the spring of 1996. She seems to be recycling a number of the same subjects in a less fresh and snappy way.

Her principal subjects here are animal exploitation, pet fetishes and economic injustices. In "From a Gourmet's Library," a trio of paintings showing chickens, pigs and a steer hang above a shelf bearing books whose titles deal with animal consumption: "666 Ways to Prepare Goat Meat"; "The E. coli Diet -- Lose 10 Lbs in 2 Days!"; "Tender Pork" (with a cover picture of a weeping pig).

In "American Landscape," the books under a landscape painting refer to social and economic injustices: "Global Economics & Your Grandchildren" (cover picture of kids raiding garbage cans); "Preparing for Your Minimum Wage Job" (young people sniffing glue, shooting up); "Chapter 11: Declaring Moral Bankruptcy."

The best work here is "Snowball's Ark," about pet mania. Under a picture of a kitten in a basket that's so cute it makes your teeth ache, the books include the three-volume "Pet-Well Library" including "Finding Your Pet's Meridians," "Rolfing Your Dog" and "Feline Psychiatry."

Fun, yes, but a little weary. Lowe's visual knives need some sharpening.

Galerie Francoise et ses freres is in Green Spring Station at Falls and Joppa Roads. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. The Lowe show runs through Nov. 28. For information, call 410-337-2787.

Pub Date: 11/17/98

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