Two Uruguayans see surrealism's darkness and light

The genre's importance is too easily overlooked

Arts: museums, literature

October 16, 2003|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Put any group of art critics or historians together in a room, and they could argue for hours over the question of whether cubism or surrealism was the most influential modern art movement of the 20th century.

My vote goes to surrealism, if only because it has so thoroughly penetrated American popular culture - everything from fashion photos to record-album covers to the bizarre, unintentional montages of TV images strung together by channel-surfing couch potatoes.

We're so used to this kind of pap surrealism we hardly any longer recognize its spiritual descent from the art of such early 20th-century pioneers as Man Ray, Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali.

So when a show comes along that practically screams its historical consciousness of the original surrealist project of illogical juxtapositions and Freudian sexual imagery, it's worth checking out.

Such is the case with the new show at Gallery International, which this month is presenting paintings and sculptures by Uruguayan artists Arturo Mallman and Cecilia Miquez.

Mallman's mixed-media paintings have the luminous, dream-like quality of some highly evolved collective unconscious. Miguez's well-wrought, incredibly inventive bronze and mixed-media figurative sculpture manages to suggest inner states of being that are quite unconstrained by rational thought processes or conventional morality.

There's probably a case to be made that of all modern art movements, surrealism was the most intrinsically congenial to Latin American artists, if for no other reason than that the tumultuous, tortuous history of their countries so often incorporated the bizarre as part of the normal course of things.

One has only to think of the "magical realism" of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and others to appreciate the Latin American feeling for the terrifying and the beautiful as ultimate expressions of the human condition.

Surrealism springs from a fundamentally tragic philosophy of life, a recognition of the irrationality and predisposition for violence that are hard-wired into the human psyche.

Mallman and Miguez respect the power of these dark impulses even in their most playful images, which gives this show a peculiarly solemn gravity even as it soars on wings of fantasy.

The gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Call: 410-230-0561.

For more art events, see Page 51.

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