The pass-through places deserve some attention

Photographs examine corridors and stairwells

Arts: museums, literature

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

Sergio A. Fernandez's large color photographs at Gallery International are about the poetry of commonplace public spaces -- those acres of impersonal hallways, corridors, stairwells, ramps and the like so endemic to modernist architecture we hardly bother to notice them.

These purely utilitarian structures are an intimate part of our daily experience of modern office buildings, as well as of the organizations they house.

Yet far from stamping their environments with unique identities, they seem as identically bland, interchangeable and anonymous as the corporate employees who pass through them.

A large conference room, a corner office or even a lowly cubicle pod all may evoke the interests, habits, passions and quirks of those who work there. But a concrete stairwell in a modern high-rise is chilling in its dogged functionality; it is a space with no sense of place, a soulless location in which there is no "there" there.

Fernandez's images of this carefully constructed sterility offer scant evidence of a human presence, which makes them all the more ironic since architecture, unlike nature, exists solely to accommodate the needs of people.

Still, there is a weird beauty in these pictures, a serene stillness in the play of light and color over the banal industrial materials, that strangely belies their blind, inhuman serviceability.

All of the pictures are taken with a large-format view camera that allows the photographer to correct the optical distortions of the lens and render scenes in what appears to be normal perspective.

The artist's virtuosity, however, only heightens the surreal abnormality of his subject -- the obsessive, neurotic purposefulness of thousands of cubic feet of expensively enclosed space designed not to be inhabited or even admired but simply to be got through on the way to somewhere else.

Perhaps that's just another metaphor of life in our impatient postindustrial age, though it is surely a rather depressing one. Fernandez's pictures rage at its banality, futility and waste, while at the same time celebrating its odd moments of magical transcendence.

The show runs through June 5. Gallery International is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-230-0561.

For more arts events, see Page 39.

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