BMA gets painting by McIver

ART

Donors reach out to black audience

April 20, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The Joshua Johnson Council at the Baltimore Museum of Art is one of the country's oldest support groups dedicated to helping museums reach out to African-American audiences.

This year, the council celebrates its 20th anniversary with a gift to the BMA of a painting by Beverly McIver, whose self-posed images of sad-faced clowns and housemaids are painted parables of the tribulations endured by generations of African-American domestic workers.

The JJC painting, entitled A Woman's Work, depicts the artist in her trademark maid's outfit stoically starching and steaming clothes on an ironing board. The picture will go on view in the museum's Contemporary Wing on Sunday.

McIver is one of several contemporary African-American artists (others include Kara Walker, Robert Colescott and Michael Ray Charles) who have used inflammatory, stereotypical imagery from America's past as a way of exploring changing definitions of racial identity.

Such work is almost by definition controversial, edgy, and - for some African-American viewers, at least - intensely painful to contemplate.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that the issues raised by black artists using stereotypical imagery will be the subject of a lively discussion of both sides of the issue this weekend at the annual James A. Porter Colloquium sponsored by Howard University in Washington.

The two-day event begins at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the university's School of Business auditorium at 6th and Fairmont streets, N.W. For information and directions, call 202-806-7072.

During a visit to New York last week, I arrived at the Brooklyn Museum subway stop just as director Arnold Lehman (formerly director of the Baltimore Museum of Art) was standing at the top of the station steps, giving a TV interview about his museum's new $63 million renovation.

Standing before replicas of objects from the museum's collection mounted on the station's tiled walls, Lehman said the renovation, which includes a dramatically redesigned front entrance, was symbolic of the museum's populist embrace of its surrounding community.

The new entrance is a futuristic, 15,000-square-foot shingled-glass pavilion, designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, grafted onto the museum's 19th-century Beaux Art facade.

The hemicycle plan of the structure definitely grabs your attention: The huge, light-filled enclosure greets visitors with a spacious embrace that feels both generous and welcoming.

Inside, the museum's beautifully reinstalled galleries house several new shows, including an exhibit of some 200 Brooklyn artists whose numbers include art-world superstars Vito Acconci, Nayland Blake, Robert Lazzarini, Vic Muniz, Glenn Ligon and the Starn twins.

There's also a fantastic retrospective exhibit honoring African-American fashion designer Patrick Kelly, whose whimsical outfits inspired by black memorabilia and folk arts set Parisian couture afire before his death from AIDS in 1990 at the age of 35.

The newly renovated Brooklyn Museum (formerly Brooklyn Museum of Art) is definitely worth checking out next time you're in the Big Apple, even if the ebullient Arnold Lehman isn't there to greet you at the top of the subway steps.

At Resurgam

The lovely exhibit of paintings by Anne Griffith and Cynthia Brower at Resurgam Gallery in Federal Hill is a reminder that well-rendered decorative images have a charm all their own.

Brower's watercolors and oil-on-canvas landscapes were inspired by a picturesque locale in her native South Africa, a tidal pool known as Maidens' Cove just outside Capetown on the country's Atlantic coast.

"During the apartheid era, Maidens' Cove was one of the few swimming areas designated for people of color, and so as a white person growing up in the area I never visited it," Brower writes in her artist's statement. "When, some years later, I was able to go to Maidens Cove, I was awed by its beauty."

Brower's abstract landscapes capture the changing moods of the cove at different times of the day, from high tide when water crashes over the sea wall through afternoon and evening, when the reflections on the water's surface produce a kaleidoscope of colors.

The artist and her husband emigrated to the United States in 1961. These paintings had their genesis during a 2002 visit, and so represent a rediscovery of a troubled and beautiful land for both the artist and her viewers.

The companion exhibit by Anne Griffith presents a delightful menagerie of monkeys, lemurs and other endangered creatures whose minutely observed facial expressions - some fussy, some thoughtful, some just plain perplexed - give them a disconcertingly human appearance.

The show continues through Sunday. The gallery is at 910 S. Charles St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Call 410-962-0513.

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