Works created `On Site' fascinate

Art: The element of chance took a hand when Maryland Art Place asked artists to produce original works in the gallery.

June 29, 1999|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Nearly too late I caught up with the group show "On Site/In Sight" at Maryland Art Place, which runs through Saturday. It is a fascinating and troublesome exhibition that deserves a longer run (it opened June 8), if only to allow the public more time to ponder the thorny issues it raises.

The show was curated by Timothy App and Allyn Massey, who asked a dozen regional artists to create works directly on the walls of MAP's first- and second-floor galleries. Though the curators chose the artists, there was no way for them to know exactly what the artists would create to address the specific site.

Given the unavoidable element of chance involved in such a project, it is surprising that things generally came off as well as they did. Most of the artists rose to the challenge by creating genuinely thoughtful, provocative work.

John Ruppert's "Mud Circle," for example, consists of a disc of Maryland clay 11.5 feet in diameter and weighing 4,000 pounds. It resembles the stump of a giant redwood tree, an effect heightened by the gradual cracking and breaking of the clay as it dries, which suggests the process of decay.

In Ruppert's case, fortuitous circumstance intervened. Unbeknown to the artist at the time of the installation, the raw clay (delivered wet to the gallery in a cement-mixer truck) contained the seeds of grasses and other greenery which, in the warm sunlit area behind MAP's front window, began to sprout a few days later.

The delicate new growth emerging from the symbolic remains of the majestic old tree became a startling and completely unanticipated evocation of the eternal cycle of death and regeneration.

The process of change also figures in Pam Thompson's installation "Echo," a memory piece inspired by the artist's childhood experience of a deep well, which is evoked by ceiling-high tubes of gray burlap. A mysterious watery world painted on the wall behind the tubes with a solution of iron oxide gradually changes color when exposed to air.

In a similar vein, Ken Martin's "Projection Drawing" in silverpoint is a delicate design whose shape and emphasis alter as the metal oxidizes. There is a minimalist tendency to all these pieces that encourages contemplation of the process of change as well as the nature of art.

In this restrained and meditative context, David Little's "True North," a mural-sized pastel and crayon drawing, seems crashingly out of place. Not only is it out of sync with the other pieces in the gallery, it seems at war even with itself, juxtaposing figures, machines, tools and other objects in a manner I found incoherent and off-putting.

The show's curators apparently were powerless to prevent this kind of disruption, which is a shame, because the result has been to hold the entire group's show hostage to a single artist's indiscipline.

At Gomez Gallery

French neo-classicist Jean Dominique Ingres and American color-field painter Mark Rothko are not artists one usually thinks of as having much in common. Yet both serve as inspiration for Brian Taylor, a twentysomething local artist whose large-scale paintings are on display at Gomez Gallery through July 25.

There is youthful exuberance here to match both Ingres and Rothko's skillful use of line and color. Taylor paints big pictures -- the largest measure about 8 feet by 8 feet -- and one feels that he is onto something promising, even though it has not yet been completely realized. Taylor is definitely someone to watch.

Gomez is also showing 12 color images of nudes and landscapes by French photographer Bernard Faucon.

Though technically of a very high order -- the pictures are printed using a secret process invented by Theodore Fresson in the early part of the 20th century and handed down through the Fresson family printing business -- Faucon's images strike me as shallow and predictable.

The best thing about the exhibit may be the accompanying essay by Jean-Paul Michel, which illustrates the remarkable French talent for pseudo-intellectual babble intended to make the commonplace seem exceptional.

Pub Date: 6/29/99

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