Works capture beauty with light


Illuminating reliefs rely on materials

April 06, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

German artist Annette Sauermann's severe and luminous wall relief sculptures, on view at C. Grimaldis Gallery through May 22, look at first glance like 1960s-inspired minimalist boxes with bands of white paper or film stretched taut across their open frames.

In fact, however, the inspiration for Sauermann's geometric constructions comes less from Donald Judd's austere investigations of rectangular solids than from James Turrell's ecstatic meditations on light or Mark Rothko's color field paintings.

Though Sauermann's sculptures speak the formal language of minimalism, their subject concerns the spiritual qualities of light. They are invitations to experience a higher level of consciousness and as such share many of the lofty, transcendent aspirations of earlier, pre-minimalist modern art.

Sauermann's sculptures consist of rectangular cast concrete block linked by thin, translucent sheets of a plastic material similar to Mylar. Functionally, they are "light boxes" or "light traps" that capture the illumination of the space they are installed in and transmute it into lyrical and uncanny visual poetry.

In her earlier sculptures and installation works, Sauermann played off the smooth, brilliant surfaces of snowy white Japanese rice paper against the dark, roughly finished faces of her concrete forms. The result was a robust yet oddly mystical dialog between the sharply contrasting textures and colors of her signature materials.

In her current work, the artist substitutes an environmentally more stable plastic material called lightfilter for the rice paper. The qualities of the material include a capacity to reflect extremely subtle variations in the color and intensity of the light falling on it, so that the pieces imperceptibly but continuously change their appearance throughout the day in truly magical fashion.

The gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-539-1080.

More with light

The steel and glass light-box sculptures of Chicago artist Peter Stanfield also depend for their effect on a subtle dialog between contrasting materials, but in Stanfield's case the exchange also involves language.

Stanfield's works, on view at Gallery International through the end of the month, are about the dual nature of human beings -- as thinking, feeling, sentient beings and as vulnerable biological machines governed by the laws of chemistry and physics.

Each work takes the form of a precisely machined metal enclosure fitted around a fluorescent tube that illuminates various objects in front of it -- vials of colored water, plant stems and other diminutive found objects.

Each enclosure also houses a short, printed manuscript describing the thoughts and feelings of fictional characters who are experiencing various degrees of anxiety, dread or longing.

The highly polished surfaces of Stanfield's enclosures and the rigorously geometric architecture into which their constituent elements are organized evoke the rational scientific world of high-tech machinery and industrial mass production.

By contrast, the printed narratives allude to pitiable psychological and moral frailties all humans are heir to -- loneliness, alienation, illness and death.

It's this eternal, and often tragic, dialog between these two sharply contrasting modes of being -- impersonal, scientific and rational vs. personal, emotional and intuitive -- that gives this work, for all its playful inventiveness of design and construction, an poignant aura of melancholy.

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

Critics curate show

This year's annual critics' residency program sponsored by Maryland Art Place aimed to bring a distinguished arts commentator to town to work with local writers in curating a show of new and emerging talent.

New York-based Amei Wallach, a former president of the U.S. chapter of the International Association of Art Critics, chose City Paper arts editor Blake de Pastino and Washington writer Cathryn Keller to help select area artists for an exhibition and catalog publication.

The results, on view at MAP's gallery through April 17, amply justify Wallach's enthusiasm for Baltimore's art scene. She writes that while working on the MAP show, she was also jurying exhibitions in New York and New Mexico, and that between the artists involved in those shows and the ones here "there was simply no comparison."

"The Baltimore artists on the whole worked with greater clarity, sophistication and ambition than most of the others," Wallach wrote in the MAP catalog.

"Perhaps it was because they came from a geographically defined artistic community. Or perhaps it was simply that Baltimore is fecund soil for the maturation of art and artists," she added. "Whatever the reason, the Baltimore artists were simply better than those who submitted to the other exhibitions, and I had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose."

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