Works leap off the walls

Artists' three-dimensional, outdoor approach reflects Artscape's cheeky sense of fun

Artscape '99

July 08, 1999|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

This year's Artscape, even more than in years past, will have a lot of people asking themselves how to tell the artwork from the outdoor furniture.

Both inside and outside the galleries along Mount Royal Avenue and at other locations around town, local artists will be presenting some of their most adventurous and challenging work.

You don't have to be an expert to enjoy or appreciate what's offered -- so long as you're willing to keep an open mind and take some things with a grain of salt.

Many of the artists in this year's show have taken a definitely tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the idea that everything they create must be a "masterpiece."

Another thing you're likely to notice: The language that visual artists use to express their ideas has changed quite a bit since the days when making "art" mostly meant painting canvases or carving stone.

This year, there probably are fewer traditional paintings and sculpture proportionately than in any previous year.

In their place are murals, photography, installations and forms that defy classification.

Take, for example, the six artists who composed large outdoor works based on the theme of home and hearth. Curator Gary Kachadourian asked each of them to build a sculpture based on a house with a 100-square-foot floor plan.

The idea was for them to use the pieces to explore such issues as sanctuary, shelter, ownership and display, as well as to introduce viewers to the highly personal visual language each of the artists has been developing over the past few years.

Are such works sculpture in the traditional sense?

Maybe, but perhaps they are better described as installation, a relatively new form in which the artist employs objects, drawing and other techniques to create a total environment that transforms the meaning of the site on which they are located.

All this may sound pretty obscure until you realize that Washington's Vietnam Memorial is a kind of installation, as was artist Fred Wilson's groundbreaking "Mining the Museum" exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society a few years back.

Both took an existing site and transformed its meaning by juxtaposing familiar objects in new, unexpected ways.

Artscape's 100-square-foot houses range from Allyn Massey's long, skinny glass pool house to Sam Christian Holmes' massive twin steel towers and gates.

The former evokes fragility and vulnerability, while the latter exults in its sheer power and strength. Each of the artists has chosen materials appropriate to the theme.

A house can be a hut or a palace -- or it can be, like a birdhouse or a doghouse, unfit for any human habitation.

Steve Ziger's tongue-in-cheek "Treehouse" is all yet none of the above.

Say the word "treehouse," and most people think of a cozy hideaway perched in sturdy oak or meandering apple boughs.

But Ziger decided to interpret the word literally -- as a house built for a tree to live in.

Ziger's house is a handsome brick structure 10 feet on a side and fronted by a lovely lawn and reflecting pond.

The front door is quite narrow, possibly because the house's occupant, a graceful linden tree planted in the median strip along Mount Royal Avenue, obviously isn't going anywhere.

(Still, one needs to keep up appearances, even if one happens to be a tree living in a house. I wonder who mows the lawn?)

One might well ask what's the point of such art. That's a question each viewer must decide for him or herself.

I can only suggest that pieces like these exist mainly to be enjoyed, appreciated and occasionally puzzled over.

After all, the purpose of art should be to provoke contemplation.

We are well beyond the time when artists felt a professional duty to educate, inspire or morally uplift their audiences. Some people still miss that era.

But Artscape's 100-square-foot houses surely fit the famous dictum of 19th-century critic Walter Pater that the most perfect art is also perfectly useless -- and perhaps therein lies its beauty.

What: Artscape 2000 minus 1

When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon-10:30 p.m.,

Where: Mount Royal Avenue (accessible by Light Rail)

Admission: Free

Call: 410-396-4575 or TTY, 410-225-2283

Web: www.artscape.org

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Ongoing

Art car show, Bright StARTS tent, Cultural Resources Tent, Creation Station and Art of Harmony at the Lyric Opera House, Literary Arts Market, Artists' Market, food sales, and exhibits at Maryland Institute, College of Art; City Hall Courtyard Galleries; Villa Julie College Gallery; Maryland Art Place; School 33 Art Center; and throughout festival grounds

Friday

6 p.m.

BGE Kinderman Kick-off Parade, Fox to Decker Stage

6:30 p.m.

The Crawdaddies, Cajun/zydeco/swing, Fox Stage

Freeman A. Hrabowski, keynote speaker for literary events, Moot Court Room, Angelos Law Center, University of Baltimore

7 p.m.

Ruby Glover, jazz, Decker Stage

7:30 p.m.

Meet W.E.B. Dubois, portrayed by Bill Grimmette, Moot Court Room, Angelos Law Center, UB

8 p.m.

Stanley Turrentine, blues tenor saxophone, Fox Stage

8:15 p.m.

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