`Heroic' photography, still-life styles revived

Art Review

Baltimore Vivat!

February 25, 2003|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Baltimore's celebration of Vivat!, the 300th birthday of St. Petersburg, is reflected in gallery shows all over town this month. It's gratifying how uniformly high the quality of these shows are, even though no two of them are really alike.

At C. Grimaldis Gallery, photographers Christopher Myers and Alexey Titarenko offer highly personal takes on Moscow and St. Petersburg, which they treat as gigantic stage sets.

Titarenko's lyrical photographs of St. Petersburg are intimate evocations of his lifelong love affair with the city, which he portrays as the one constant amid the eternal flux of life. People move in and out of his frames, seasons change imperceptibly, and a soft light bathes his city and its inhabitants in a magical aura of anticipation.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption accompanying an article about Russian artists in yesterday's Today section incorrectly identified the gallery showing Izya Shlosberg's Sip of Wine. The painting is at Montage Gallery in Federal Hill. The Sun regrets the error.

There's a fin-de-siecle, 19th-century air to Titarenko's snow-covered streets and somber building facades. His pictures exude a sense of displaced time and space that makes them strangely unsettling.

Myers also harks back to the style of an earlier age, the "heroic" photography of socialist-realism. But the photographer slyly undercuts the authority of this pompous, officially approved style, by relentlessly pointing out its ironies, absurdities and pretensions - for example, a mock-heroic statue of Lenin standing bedraggled and forlorn inside a tacky little shrine rimmed by a chain-link fence.

Hurry to see this show before it closes Saturday. The gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 410-539-1080.

Non-conformist art

Painters are the stars of the exhibition of non-conformist art at Maryland Art Place. All the artists are either St. Petersburg natives or have lived there for significant periods.

Non-conformist art refers to works by artists who rejected the official socialist-realist style. Painters who wanted to exhibit pictures other than heroic workers and peasants had to go underground - where small groups of people gathered for low-profile "apartment exhibitions."

A terrific amount of artistic talent got suppressed under communism. Yet the MAP show is also an object lesson in what freedom might have looked like in the former Soviet Union. Among the styles are surrealism, pop, fantasy, postmodernist, even a revival of 17th-century Dutch still life - in short, all that artists in the West took for granted.

Since there was no future for it in the Soviet Union, St. Petersburg's loss has been our gain.

Natasha Mokina's amazing still lifes are witty and lovely; she is one of those rare people who can make a revival style seem completely contemporary and fresh.

Noi Volkov and Izya Shlosberg take on Caravaggio, Dali, Picasso and Magritte. Their efforts suggest that if Russian modernism hadn't been stifled by Stalinist orthodoxy there's no telling what Soviet-era artists might have achieved.

Also on display are prints by Tatiana Palnitska and paintings by Gennadiy Gurvich. A couple of the artists are exhibiting in other venues, too, this month: Volkov's sculptures are at Baltimore Clayworks, and Shlosberg has a one-man show at Montage Gallery.

The MAP show runs through March 15. The gallery is at 8 Market Place, suite 100. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call: 410-962-8565. The Clayworks show continues through March 29. Call 410-578-1919. The Montage Gallery show runs through March 9. Call 410-752-1125.

Black Russians

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, Russia's greatest poet, was the grandson of an Ethiopian slave brought via Amsterdam to St. Petersburg, where he became a favorite of Peter the Great.

Pushkin's African ancestry is probably the best known story of blacks in Russia but by no means the only one. Now the Russian-African connection is the theme of a delightfully off-beat show at Galerie Francoise curated by celebrated Baltimore artist Joyce Scott.

Scott discovered that people of African ancestry have been part of Russian culture at least since the 18th century. Some were slaves or indentured servants, others were refugees from racial injustice elsewhere. In the early 20th century, black Americans traveled to the Soviet Union lured by its egalitarian propaganda; in the 1960s, Africans from newly independent nations studied there.

Scott has drawn together a group of artists obviously inspired by the Russian-African relationship.

Sonya Clark's video installation, beaded glass tumblers (for drinking - what else? - Black Russian cocktails) and Braille sculpture embossed with text from Pushkin's poems show there's plenty of material to mine.

Shinique Amie Smith's hip-hop inspired paintings have the elegance of Cyrilic script, and the cunning wood sculptures of William Rhodes are clearly inspired by Russian icons.

Ceramist Carlton Leverette is well-known for his colorful vessels based on African and Asian designs, but here he's represented by a pair of lovely vases and an amazing batik fabric whose patterns incorporate the ancient spires and minarets of the Kremlin. There's also terrific work by Carl and Linda Day Clark, Osvaldo Mesa and Oletha De Vane, sculptor roycrosse and Scott herself.

"Black Russians" runs through the end of March. The gallery is at 2360 W. Joppa Road in Green Spring Station. Hours are Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 410-337-2787.

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