Industrial-strength sculpture

Exhibit: Kirsten Campbell's stark, compelling presences bring to mind the form's close relationship with architecture.

August 17, 1999|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Sculpture has probably been the form least affected by the upheavals in the art world over the past two decades, a period during which any number of "isms" have afflicted the art of painting.

The most important developments in 20th-century sculpture have been the rejection of representation and the growing use of industrial materials. Abstraction replaces representation, while marble, bronze and clay increasingly have given way to iron, steel, glass, plastics and celluloid.

What sculpture has retained has been the pure function of occupying, defining, enclosing and representing three-dimensional spaces and shapes. It is from this perspective that the works of Kirsten Campbell at the Gomez Gallery derive their considerable power.

Campbell sculpts almost life-size human and animal figures out of concrete and steel rods. The artist first constructs a framework by bending the rods into figurative shapes, then constructs a wooden box around the armature and fills it with wet, poured concrete.

After the concrete dries, she pulls the box apart and uses a chisel to carve away the excess concrete around the shape defined by the armature.

This technique seems like a curious reversal of Michelangelo's, who was said to have believed that every figure already existed inside the raw marble block, and that the sculptor's task was to uncover forms that were already there.

Campbell's approach is to put the form inside the block first, then "rediscover" it through the act of carving.

In any case, the resulting figures -- part human, part animal -- are stark, compelling presences. In some of the pieces the artist has allowed sections of steel armature to show through the rough, unfinished concrete surface. In others, parts of the figure are completely defined by the metal's outlines.

The overall impression of the figures is of a clever synthesis of historical styles that both occupies and encloses space. The effect calls to mind sculpture's close relationship with architecture, and the implied comparison is further heightened by use of industrial construction materials common to both.

Also at Gomez are paintings by Steven Yu, a gifted draftsman and colorist whose large oil on paper works employ vivid colors and skillful modeling to explore the figure with originality and verve. Both shows continue through Aug. 29.

Anti-NEA effort flags

Congressional efforts to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts fell flat in both the Senate and the House earlier this summer, signaling a continuing loss of momentum among opponents of federal arts funding.

By a vote of 80 to 16, the Senate defeated an Aug. 5 amendment by Sen. Bob Smith (I-N.H.)to kill funding for the NEA. In the House, a similar amendment offered by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) was defeated July 14.

The omnibus House bill would have kept the NEA at its current funding level of $98 million. However, another amendment offered by Appropriations Committee Chariman Bill Young (R-Fla.) to cut all spending in the bill equally by .48 percent ultimately reduced NEA's proposed budget for next year to $97,530,000.

Quiet Waters' watercolors

The Baltimore Watercolor Society presents a juried exhibition of members' work at the Willow Gallery of Quiet Waters in Annapolis through Oct. 3.

The society, founded in 1885, is the third oldest organization in the country devoted to the watercolor medium. There will be a reception for the artists Aug. 29 at the gallery from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The gallery is at 600 Quiet Waters Park Road. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays except Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information call 410-222-1777.

Grant to Evergreen House

Evergreen House, the historic house museum of the Johns Hopkins University and former residence of ambassador John Work Garrett and his wife has received a $48,000 grant from the Stockman Family Fondation to improve the exhibition and storage facilities of its Japanese decorative arts collection.

Begun by T. Harrison Garrett (1849-1888) and continued by his son John Work Garrett (1872- 1942) the 724 objects in the Evergreen House collection -- which includes netsuke, masks, tea ceremony objects, snuff bottles and incense objects -- form one of the largest and oldest privately owned collections of Japanese decorative arts outside Japan.

The Stockman Family Foundation is a non-profit, privately supported philanthropic institution organized to advance conservation efforts by museums and universities.

Art in Havre de Grace

The 36th annual Havre de Grace Art Show will be held Saturday and Sunday in Memorial Park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Exhibitions will include more than 200 regional artists and craftspeople whose works include painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, woodworking, metal working, jewelry, ceramics, fibers, florals and glass.

Proceeds will benefit Soroptimist Scholarship funds and community service projects. For information and directions call 410-939-9342.

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