A sophisticated art form for the future

ART

Exhibit: Digital media artists seem to emphasize technique over meaning, but it's a young art form

Fine Arts

January 19, 1999|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

First the good news: Alan Price's "TotaPet" is the star of "State of the Arts: Digital Media Art from Maryland" at the Howard County Center for the Arts. A computer-animated video story with sound, it's a sophisticated use of its medium and a mature work of art that's entertaining and has a serious point.

On the floor of a living room stands a little cage. Its door opens and out comes a small green creature with pods for hands and feet (better than ours in some ways) and eyes on two antenna-like extensions. It explores the room and, in doing so, turns on the sound system, which blares out music that freaks the poor thing out. It tears up the room and finally retreats back into its cage. Although an alien, the creature has a good helping of human nature; when challenged, it tends to choose the safe haven over the unknown frontier, which is why the great are so few and far between.

Dan Bailey's "Unbuilt Hurva," another segment on the same videotape, is a virtual-reality creation of architect Louis Kahn's unrealized design for a synagogue in Jerusalem. It looks like it would be an extraordinarily beautiful and moving work of architecture.

These and a few others (including inkjet prints by Satre Stuelke that were seen at School 33 Art Center two months ago) stand out in a show of works by 17 Maryland artists, including both animation and computer-generated two-dimensional work.

Coordinated by the Fine Arts Gallery at University of Maryland Baltimore County, the show mostly demonstrates that digital media art has a way to go before it comes of age. Many of the works are technique-oriented. They show what the artist can do with the medium rather than communicate something meaningful to the viewer.

But a work such as "TotaPet" shows that digital media art has a future. To deny that would be something like the little green creature going back into its cage.

In the center's second gallery, Edward Brown's accomplished and beautiful landscape paintings and drawings, featuring trees, come with a frank and refreshing artist's statement. "Each painting is a compromise between what I intend and what I can do," it says. How true of all human endeavors. In Brown's case, if these pictures show what he can do, his intentions must be really something.

The Howard County Center for the Arts, at 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City, is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Both shows run through Feb. 27. For information, call 410-313-2787.

Collages at Loyola

The collages of Carmen Robb, at the Loyola College Art Gallery, employ images as diverse as birds, portraits, townscapes, fruit and maps in colorful, decorative and varyingly successful works.

Typically, a Robb collage centers on a reproduction of a face or at times a figure from art history -- a Rembrandt self-portrait, Vermeer's young woman with a pearl earring, Leonardo's woman with an ermine. Around this, the artist clusters all manner of visual bits and pieces. While most of the central faces and figures are taken from a period that spans the early renaissance to the late 19th century, the motif of central image surrounded by decorated border recalls medieval illuminated manuscripts.

In some of the pictures, the elements that make up the borders appear to have primarily decorative value, such as pictures of foliage or flowers. In others, they refer directly to the central image and give the work a degree of thematic unity. Around the Rembrandt self-portrait, for instance, are various references to the Netherlands, including boats (referring to the country's strong marine tradition), windmills and Dutch stamps.

The best of Robb's works have a strong face to anchor them and/or enough similar elements to give visual unity to the whole. "The Pear Page," for instance, benefits from its yellows, the multiple use of pears and the light that suffuses the picture, while "Europe" owes much to the use of blues that echo the color of the Vermeer young woman's turban.

Others, such as "Eakin's [sic] Page," fare less well. The picture of the two rowers at its center is not strong enough to provide a focal point. In "Vermeer, The Beloved," the margins tend toward muddy indistinctness. And the smaller works ranged along one wall are attractive enough when viewed up close but dissolve into a jumble when seen at any distance.

At their best, these works have considerable appeal. But this group could have benefited from some editing.

The Loyola College Art Gallery is in the College Center on the Loyola campus at 4501 N. Charles St. It is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. The show runs through Feb. 14. Call 410-617-2799.

Garrett collections

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