Evergreen opening its summer-long sculpture exhibit

Biennial show reflects the elegance of a bygone era

Arts: museums, literature

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

Is a cardboard tea house a sculpture? A path made of coal dust and glass? How about a humongous netsuke mask with video-screen eyes and paper skin? How about a very small, very gentle flock of sheep?

These and other curious, cunning and otherwise unexpected objects are all on view at the biennial Sculpture at Evergreen exhibition that opens Saturday on the grounds of the historic Garrett family mansion on North Charles Street between Loyola University and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

Every two years, Evergreen House, now part of the Johns Hopkins University, invites artists to create works that reflect on the mansion's history as home to two generations of Garretts, whose fabulous wealth from railroads enabled them to become some of the city's foremost collectors and patrons of the arts.

So Adam Dougherty's three-quarter-scale tea house, a replica of a now-vanished garden retreat constructed entirely of cardboard covered with an epoxy resin coating, harks back to the era of elegant living when the Garretts held chamber music concerts on their lawn to entertain their guests.

Dougherty's sculpture mimics the original Garrett tea house down to the last detail, including a tiny set of table and chairs, hardwood floors and art nouveau-style patterned wallpaper. The whole whimsical structure feels like a doll house for grown-ups - but don't try sitting on the chairs.

Allison Wiese pokes gentle fun at the Garrett women's oh-so-sophisticated fondness for pastoral subjects - Alice Warder Garrett used to delight in dressing up as a shepherdess to entertain friends in her private theater - by literally turning the mansion's south lawn into a sheepfold, encircled by electric fencing and populated by four slightly befuddled-looking lambs.

The work, appropriately enough, is titled Flock, and postmodern critical theorists might even call it interactive, after a fashion. The animals are so friendly you can pet them.

Stay clear of the fence, however: The current is strong enough to give new meaning to the old phrase "shock of the new."

The Garretts were voracious collectors of prints, drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, books and manuscripts - and of the diminutive, intricately carved wood or ivory sculptures known as netsuke (pronounced NET-ski), which were once used to fasten small purses to the sashes of Japanese kimonos.

The Garretts accumulated netsukes by the cartload. So Laure Drogoul makes sly reference to the monumental scale of their efforts with her giant sculpture on the mansion's front lawn patterned after a netsuke devil mask.

The piece is a wood frame covered with nylon, printed paper, paint and spar varnish, which gives the gargantuan face the patina of old ivory. The sculpture's fearsome visage is a bit of a send-up of our habit of demonizing whatever is unfamiliar or strange, but at night the play of the mansion's lights give the form a rather more menacing aspect that, at times, can be quite unsettling.

The show also includes works by Sylvia Benitez, Anthony Cervino, Lisa Hein and Bob Seng, Michael Kronl, Brian McCutcheon, Renee Rendine and Bill Schuck.

The exhibition runs through Sept. 26. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. The mansion is at 4545 N. Charles St. Call 410-516-0341.

For more art events, see page 41.

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