Maril's canvases with a view

Art: The Baltimore artist is the subject of two exhibits, including one in Lutherville that focuses on his paintings of house interiors.

Fine Arts

April 11, 2000|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Baltimore artist Herman Maril is the subject of two shows this month, both of which reflect the artist's lifelong fascination with subjects close at hand.

(One show, curated by former Sun art critic John Dorsey, proves that there is indeed life after a career as a scribe.)

"Many Seasons," a collection of Maril's paintings of sporting events, is at Loyola College Art Gallery through May 3. "Interiors With Openings: Herman Maril Inside Looking Out" is a selection of Maril's paintings of house interiors at Galerie Francoise in Lutherville.

Maril was born in Baltimore in 1908 and lived in the city until his death in 1986. He was a graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, and taught at the University of Maryland College Park for 31 years, where he established a wide reputation as a teacher and artist.

Dorsey, who curated the show at Galerie Francoise, said in a recent interview that Maril's career was poised between traditional painting and modernism.

"He was thoroughly steeped in modernism, and his works show that quite clearly," Dorsey said. "There's a great tension that goes on between the two-dimensionality of the canvas and traditional perspective in many of his works."

Dorsey was asked to curate the show last fall by gallery owner Mary Jo Gordon and Maril's widow, Esta, and son David. All the pictures that Dorsey chose show interiors of houses, with views of the outside world seen through open doors or windows.

"The windows and doors all reflect the flatness of the picture plane, whereas the scene outside is the three-dimensional world," Dorsey said. That's why I called the show "Inside Looking Out."

Several works also acknowledge a clear debt to Matisse. For example, in such paintings as "Goldfish and Window" and "Duet No. 4," Maril's use of subject matter, color and composition reflect the influence of the French modernist master.

"Without giving up representation, Maril was quite aware of and incorporated a good deal of the modernist idiom in his work," Dorsey said.

Maril was also aware that his representational style was considered unfashionable for much of his lifetime. While researching the show, Dorsey came across a letter that Maril wrote to his daughter, Nadja, in 1975.

"Even though we do not have a lot of money, we feel that we have [had] a kind of real success," the artist wrote. "I have a profound belief in what I'm doing."

That faith was shared by many of the artist's admirers, both locally and nationally. Duncan Phillips, founder of the Phillips Collection in Washington and a tireless advocate of American modern art, bought no fewer than of 14 Maril's works for his museum.

As for life after being an art critic, Dorsey said that wearing the curatorial hat suits him just fine.

"I enjoyed all aspects of doing this exhibition -- picking the works, finding a theme, writing the essay, designing the brochure and installing the show," he said. "I would love to do more of it."

The art of curation

A group of curatorial students from MICA will visit the National Endowment of the Arts to talk about their experiences helping mount the Joyce Scott exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art earlier this year.

The students are members of George Ciscle's class at MICA, which helped mount the show as part of a collaborative effort between the Institute and the BMA. The NEA invited the students as part of the agency's efforts to develop a new generation of leaders for the nation's cultural institutions.

"It's a great experience for everybody involved," said MICA media relations director Eleanor Lewis.

About two dozen students are in the class, which is is open to undergraduate, graduate and continuing education students. Now in its third year, the class gives students a chance to help develop and plan exhibits.

This year, the students worked with Scott as research assistants and apprentices at the BMA, where they assisted in designing and editing the exhibit catalog and developing community outreach programs.

The Scott show is the first collaborative exhibit of the BMA and MICA. Previously, the curatorial class worked on "Subject to Change," a two-part exhibit at MICA last spring that featured local artists Linda Bills, Jan Rosen-Queralt and Jason Swift, and on Baltimore quilter Elizabeth Talbot Scott's show at MICA. The Talbot show later traveled to the Smithsonian, the New England Quilt Museum and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art.

Former curator to speak

And while we're on the subject: On Thursday evening, MICA presents a lecture-discussion with Lisa Phillips, a former curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art who is currently director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City.

Phillips will speak at 7: 30 p.m. at the University of Baltimore's Langsdale Auditorium. Her topics will include current issues in the arts and her vision for the New Museum, one of the country's leading institutions dedicated to contemporary art. She'll also meet with MICA students throughout this week.

Art imitates art

Finally, here's an item from the Who Said Nobody's Paying Attention Department:

The Walters Art Gallery's current show, "Gold of the Nomads: Scythian Treasures from Ancient Ukraine," sounded an echo in popular culture last week when Scythian Gold got a mention in Sunday's syndicated comic strip "Prince Valiant."

The reference was in a panel about a vengeful woman's plot to destroy the prince. Artist John Cullen Murphy was a little vague as to exactly what role Scythia's gold smiths would play in Valiant's demise, but the panel showed a number of objects -- gold urns, helmets, jars and jewelry -- that Walters officials said looked remarkably like the objects in their show.

"We suspect the comic strip writer has seen the show, or at least the catalog," said museum spokeswoman Kirsten Lavin. "The pieces in the panel looked so much like the objects in our exhibition that we feel they must have been inspired by the show, which is really neat."

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