Drawing the line on accuracy

Art: Maryland Art Place assembles works by 13 regional artists exploring figurative representation.

Fine Arts

February 15, 2000|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Maryland Art Place has for years been one of the most interesting venues in the city for regional talent. "Realist/Stylist," the current group show of 13 regional artists, is no exception.

This exhibit, curated by local figurative artist Joe Shannon, is in a sense the counterpart to MAP's show last year that explored different approaches to abstraction.

As Shannon notes in the catalog to "Realist/Stylist," representational drawing can tend either toward being "accurate" or toward being "stylized," though it is impossible for a figurative artist to be wholly one or the other.

The artists in this show explore a range of pictorial strategies and techniques that lie between these two extremes, from the photo-realist style of June Virga Mc- Adams's late portraits to the dreamy impressionism of Kim Parr's Hampden landscapes, from the expressionist vigor of Tammra Sigler's nude studies to James J. Hennessey's surreal conversations with classical archetypes.

The life-size plastic sculptures of Mark Oxman, for example, are clearly indebted to the Hellenistic foundations of Western art, yet he has updated the ancient Greek forms with a contemporary twist that makes them seem both timeless and unmistakable expressions of our own dynamic era.

Some of the artists, such as Howie Lee Weiss and Sherry Zvares Sanabria, have created works whose forms are so stylized that the objects pictured seem to dissolve back into the abstract elements of which they are composed.

As a group, these works argue persuasively for the continuing relevance of figurative art at the end of a century in which abstraction often has seemed the reigning orthodoxy. They suggest there is still plenty of vitality in the old forms and that the seeming opposition between figurative and abstract art is still capable of producing exciting new syntheses.

Black photographers show

The rich legacy of African-American photographers is the subject of a major new exhibit at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building in Washington.

"Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present" presents some 300 images by 120 African-American photographers.

The show suggests that black photographers were among the earliest pioneers of the medium in the United States and that they used photography from the beginning to help establish a collective identity countering the pervasive negative stereotypes used to justify racial discrimination.

Among the early black photographers included by this show are Augustus Washington (1820-1875), a native of New Jersey whose daguerreotype portraits were highly sought after in both New England and in Liberia, where he immigrated soon after its founding by free blacks.

James Presely Ball (1825-1905) was a free black abolitionist who photographed the construction of the Montana state capitol building and made thousands of portraits for the emerging black middle class of Helena, Mont.

Florestine Perrault Collins, a Creole woman who operated a portrait studio in New Orleans from 1920 to 1949, opened her first studio in her family living room using relatives for subjects and became one of Louisiana's most respected photographers.

The exhibit also chronicles the key role African-American photographers played in defining the significance of the civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

The works displayed include powerful photographs of black leaders such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Thurgood Marshall by such photographers as Griffith Davis, Rabert Haggins, Chester Higgins Jr. and Chuck Stewart.

The most famous of these undoubtedly is the magnificent portrait of the black-veiled Coretta Scott King hugging her daughter at her husband Martin's funeral in 1968, taken by veteran photographer Moneta Sleet Jr. for a Johnson Publications magazine.

There's also a section of the show devoted to contemporary African-American photography by such artists as Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson and Cynthia Wiggins.

This is a grand survey of African-American photography that precedes the publication of Smithsonian curator Deborah Willis' book "Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers," to be published in May by Norton.

"Reflections in Black" will be on view at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building on the Washington Mall through June 30, after which the exhibit will travel to museums in Wisconsin, New York, Texas, Maine, Virginia, Massachusetts and Tennessee.

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