Climbing in search of a definition

Athlete, artist ready for exhibit at Walters

November 04, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The looming concrete exterior that frames the Walters Art Museum contrasts grimly with the delicate Monets and other Impressionist art displayed inside. No one would call this bleak surface art.

But today, an artist and an athlete are planning to stage an adventurous and ephemeral piece of action on that stark wall with the aim of turning the museum in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood inside out.

The Centre Street museum's facade has been transformed into a rock-climbing surface with orange grips molded from some of the museum's artifacts.

A climber will scale the surface with video cameras strapped to his arms and legs to record his every move.

"You'll see the hands and feet slowly caressing and touching these objects," said artist Dennis Adams, referring to the film that will later be played on four monitors in the museum.

This is art - public art, more specifically.

The exhibit is part of "Facing Museums," a joint effort of the Walters Art Museum and the nearby Contemporary Museum that invites artists to respond to the Walters' collections in hopes of reaching a wider audience and engaging the public in a dialogue about art.

"To be a significant museum in the national scene, we need to be involved in the process of defining what art is in the 21st century," said Gary Vikan, director of the Walters. "At the same time, I think that process of helping to clarify and define what art is, it will help us to understand what art was in the past."

Kalvin Evans, a 29-year-old rock climber from Columbia, will scale the Walters' 1974 fortress-like building at 2 p.m. today.

The bright-orange climbing grips were constructed from small objects in the museum's collection that were cast with resin into hand and foot grips. Seven objects - including a plate, an incense burner, a vase and a hippopotamus - are wedged into the wall 36 times each, resulting in 252 climbing grips.

Adams, an architecture professor and director of the visual arts program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he hopes to "warm up" the wall by "turning the museum inside out."

"It looks more like a bunker, constructed in that brutalist architecture of the 1970s," Adams said.

The public has noticed the change - the climbing grips were installed Thursday and have attracted many passers-by, prompting them to inquire about the exhibit.

"Every time someone walks down the street, they say, `What is this?'" said Jacqueline Copeland, director of education and public programs. "That's what art is supposed to be."

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