Coming to grips with art

Wall: A climber scales the Walters Art Museum with four video cameras strapped to him, using resin-cast replicas of art objects as his handholds and footholds.

November 05, 2001|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Japanese Storm King, meet American Fitness Trainer. That's his foot resting on your Yoda-like nose.

Hellenistic Head of a Girl, say hello to rock climber Kalvin Evans, and forgive him for sprinkling chalk dust in your hair.

Art met athleticism on the concrete facade of the Walters Art Museum yesterday as Evans, a former Air Force sergeant from Columbia, climbed the stark gray wall facing Cathedral Street with four tiny video cameras strapped to his forearms and calves.

Evans chose his handholds and footholds from among 252 bright orange resin-cast replicas of art objects, bolted in erratic rows across the facade.

The items were selected by artist Dennis Adams from the museum's collection "not for their archaeological or historical or aesthetic value, but on the criteria of grips," he said.

The brief encounter was the first step in the creation of a work of art titled Seize. In the next phase, a videotape of the climb will go on display Thursday at the Walters.

Adams, 46, is an architecture professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who roams the United States and Europe installing ephemeral artworks that use city buildings, from museum facades to bus shelters, as their backdrop.

In this work, Adams said, he wanted the art objects - a hodgepodge of items ranging from a 3,700-year-old Egyptian hippopotamus to a tea tray from the court of Louis XV - to "explode through the museum walls and out into the street."

The work was commissioned by the Walters and its neighbor, the Contemporary Museum.

"Between the two of us, we're going to get into some mischief," Walters Director Gary Vikan promised a crowd of about 100 spectators.

Except for the click of camera shutters, the crowd watched in a hush as the 29-year-old climber flexed and clambered up a two-story section of the facade.

The black-clad Evans made a striking silhouette against the gray concrete in the pale autumn light.

When a local climbing school recommended Evans for the role, "I didn't know he was so beautiful," said Adams. "We had to keep all the women away from the practice sessions."

Safety

"Is that, like, safe?" asked a traffic patrolwoman directing cars from the scene.

It was, sort of. A pair of safety ropes harnessed Evans securely to two assistants on the sidewalk.

Still, he paused several times in the three-minute climb to shake the tension from his arms or dip his hands in a bag of chalk dust strapped at the small of his back.

"Bravo!" cried several in the crowd as he reached the end of his climb and swiftly rappelled down the front of the building.

"It wasn't a routine climb," said Evans, who has been climbing for about a year. "It was a challenge."

The custom-cast handholds will stay bolted to the museum's facade until January, said Jackie Copeland, director of education at the Walters.

The combination of gray concrete and orange objets d'art "is an impressive sculpture in and of itself," said spectator Brian Doyle, a New York video artist visiting friends in Baltimore.

`A robust quality'

And it adds some zip to the 1974 museum wing, designed by a team of Boston architects in a bleak, unlovely style known as Brutalism.

The style was meant to convey "strength, a robust quality, an honesty of materials," said Steven Ziger, an architect and chairman of the board of the Contemporary.

"It was brutal, you might say," said Ziger. "And short-lived."

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