The still life has a long tradition in Western art dating back at least to the Renaissance and Baroque eras and the golden age of 17th-century Dutch painting.
A contemporary take on the genre may be seen in the work of Xavier Carbonell at the Gomez Gallery through Saturday. Carbonell paints precisely composed geometric abstractions of modern interiors whose translucent colors remind me of orange, lemon and lime sherbets.
Carbonell's subjects all have a decidedly contemporary flavor. There are, to be sure, vases of cut flowers and bowls of fruit. But these traditional objects are set amid sleek computer monitor screens and compact disc players instead of freshly killed game or human skulls. The flowers and fruit are a nod to the traditional vanitas picture, with its evocation of the transitory nature of life, but everything else bespeaks the decor of modernity.
Like the Dutch masters, Carbonell's still lifes evoke synesthesia, the condition of one type of stimulation mimicking the sensation of another (as when, for example, flowers are rendered so vividly one can almost smell them). In Carbonell's case, however, the evocation of different stimuli is more conceptual than visual.
Many of the paintings, for instance, depict both CD players and the so-called jewel boxes, complete with labels, in which the compact discs are stored. So a painting that contains a recording of, say, a Wagnerian opera, can be read as an interpretation of that music as well as a purely pictorial design. Carbonell delights in such embedded messages: Almost all his paintings contain scraps of poetry, musical motifs and other texts that suggest meanings beyond the immediately apparent.
This is very decorative art, if not terribly deep. If there is a place for painting that is pleasing to the eye and mentally refreshing without being too intellectually taxing (and perhaps there should be), then Carbonell is an artist who has found his niche.
Also at Gomez are paintings by Martha Zuik. The gallery is at 3600 Clipper Mill Road. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 410-662-9510.
BMA acquires headdress
One of the prides of the Baltimore Museum of Art's African art collection is the famous D'Mba (pronounced "Dimba") headdress made by the Baga people of West Africa. That imposing object, which the museum acquired in 1957, was fashioned to represent the Baga people's highest ideal of beauty and correct behavior.
Now the museum has acquired another Baga ceremonial headdress, whose ritual name roughly translates as "The Medicine Canoe." The piece, a large, abstract representation of a canoe with carved relief designs on both sides, was purchased at auction in New York last month for an undisclosed sum.
The recent purchase brings the number of Baga headdresses in the collection to three (the museum purchased a "Banda" mask, used in the Baga's initiation ceremony for young boys, in 1990).
"The Medicine Canoe headdress was made to be balanced on top of a dancer's head as he performed in the town's central plaza," said Fred Lamp, the BMA's curator for African and Oceanic art. "It's called a medicine canoe because in African societies medicine is any agent which helps people do better. The headdress and the dance associated with it are agents of change for the better."
"We are going to display it in a way that suggests its original artistic context as well as the way it appears in performance," Lamp said.
The museum plans to put the Medicine Canoe on display this summer.