At MAP, work puts pieces together

ART

Collaborative effort makes stop in town

December 30, 2003|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

As journalist Tom Wolfe complained in his now classic diatribe against modernism, The Painted Word, a lot of contemporary art is more about ideas than about images.

Still, even Wolfe might find it hard to quarrel too strenuously with something as eye-poppingly fresh and appealing as Collection Intersection, the conceptually over-the-top collaborative installation by Paul Bartow and Richard Metzgar on view at Maryland Art Place through Jan. 9.

Collection Intersection is a large and imposing three-dimensional work composed of dozens of smaller, pop-art-inspired components, including office furniture, metal display cases and utility racks (some upside-down or lying on their sides), shipping crates, panels of aluminum siding, electrical conduits, piano innards and other found objects, painting, sculpture, photography and sound pieces, some still encased in their protective plastic bubble-wrap cocoons.

The brightly colored installation, which radiates an aura of exuberant abundance in the sheer number of seemingly unrelated objects it encompasses, fills the first two rooms of the gallery, and one could read it as a kind of metaphor for the visual and aural cacophony of contemporary American civilization, or perhaps for the seemingly haphazard way the life of the culture progresses.

As it travels around the country (Baltimore is the fourth site where the installation has appeared), the work continually assimilates new elements from its environment and carries them on to the next venue. (Even the sound pieces, which issue from small speakers embedded in the paintings, re-create the ambience of previous exhibitions.)

Bartow and Metzgar cite the idea of assemblage developed by the late French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) as the jumping off point for their work. Deleuze conceived of assemblages as structures of pure potential, from which connecting links radiate in all directions.

For the artists, the important point about assemblage is not the individual objects which make up their work but rather the potential for creating new connective links among them. What they take from Deleuze is the idea of a structure that is never in a fixed state, but rather has infinite potential for hooking up with other structures.

"We're not philosophers, but as artists, we're interested in working with his ideas," Bartow said in a recent interview. "Our work is less an illustration of his ideas than a way of thinking about how architecture and art go together.

"The idea of the assemblage is that it is three-dimensional, allowing for the possibility of moving in any direction," Bartow said. "So anything can be linked to anything else. Our idea is that these links are made all the time, and it's the links that are the interesting part for us."

The process of artistic collaboration itself can be thought of as a kind of assemblage, a not-quite predictable joining of two or more different working styles and methods. So the various trusses, conduits and connective links that unite the installation are also metaphors for the creative process.

"The lines aren't fixed, so the piece has to reinvent itself in each new space as a way of responding or interacting with the forces of a new condition," Bartow said

These are heady concepts, yet the piece manages to do them justice with surprising panache. It's a brilliant, gaudy jumble of ideas and objects that would impress with its sheer visual energy even if you didn't know a thing about the philosophical concepts underlying it.

The companion exhibition at MAP presents Elzbieta Sikorska's hauntingly beautiful landscape drawings in graphite and other media based on her walks through wooded locales in Montgomery County and other areas.

The gallery is at 8 Market Place, Suite 100, in the Port Discovery Plaza. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-962-8565 or visit www.mdart place.org.

Group shows

Also this month are two lovely group shows at Steven Scott Gallery in Owings Mills and Bendann Art Galleries in Towson.

Scott's show, through Feb. 28, presents works by photographer Amy Lamb and painters Michael H. Lewis, Mark Barry, Carla Golembe and Frank Trefny, among others.

Lamb's large color photographs of flowers, in particular, are visual stunners in the grand tradition of photographic innovators like Imogen Cunningham and Robert Mapplethorpe.

At Bendann, Matthew Zoll's meticulously executed still lifes in the manner of Old Master paintings and photographer David Orbock's flawlessly crafted panoramic color landscapes demonstrate that the realist aesthetic remains very much alive and well in Baltimore.

Also on view at Bendann are paintings by Nathaniel Gibbs, Kirk McBride, Francesco Tammaro, Antonio Gravina and Bim Jones.

Both these shows are well worth visiting over the holidays. Steven Scott Gallery is at 9169 Reisterstown Road. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-902-9300. Bendann is at 834 Kenilworth Drive in the Shops at Kenilworth. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Call 410-825-0585.

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