Old-fashioned Surrealist pictures on a large scale


Contemporary Museum features German artists

August 17, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The last Next Big Thing from overseas encompassed the thoroughly uninhibited Young British Artists whose works in the Brooklyn Museum of Art's 1999 exhibition Sensation prompted near-universal foaming of the mouth and gnashing of teeth among this country's cultural conservatives.

No such reaction is likely to greet the latest influx of German artists, whose members, most in their 20s and 30s, are loosely affiliated with the so-called New Leipzig School of figurative painting that has taken shape in that formerly East German city over the past four or five years.

The artists - Rosa Loy, Neo Rauch, Christoph Ruckhaberle, David Schnell and Matthias Weischer - are on view this month at Baltimore's Contemporary Museum, and they are an altogether more subdued bunch than Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili and the rest of that rowdy London lot.

The Germans don't pickle sharks in formaldehyde or decorate the Virgin Mary with elephant dung. Instead, they paint old-fashioned Surrealist pictures that would have made Andre Breton, the movement's founder and chief muse in the 1920s, proud.

The only difference is that the Germans do it on the monumental scale regarded as imperative by contemporary fashion: Their canvases are huge, on the order of 1950s American abstract-expressionists like Jackson Pollock or Robert Motherwell.

Along with their outsized dimensions, the Germans' paintings are also fraught with the same moral seriousness and high artistic purpose of a Clyfford Still or Mark Rothko - though perhaps not quite the same spiritual depth.

In Suche (Quest), Rauch's enormous tableaux of a village street that rises up precipitously out of an infinitely receding Alpine landscape, an unlikely cast of characters that includes a snarling hausfrau and a giant, lizard-like rodent enact some mysterious drama that seems a cruel parody of the innocuous genre scenes of an earlier era.

Similarly, Ruckhaberle's Arrangement depicts what appear to be innocent young schoolgirls, but the image has the sly erotic charge of a fantasy by Balthasar without any of the latter's sense of impending menace or obsessive guilt.

The Contemporary show was a last-minute addition to the schedule, but it's a judiciously selected and beautifully installed show of a group of artists who would surely like to become the Next Big Thing. Judging by the number of high-powered New York galleries who are snapping up their work, they may already be, which is probably reason enough to check out this intriguing exhibition.

The show runs through Sept. 4. The museum is at 100 W. Centre St. Hours are Thursday through Saturday noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Call 410-783-5720.

Art Place

The group show at Maryland Art Place grew out of the gallery's Curators' Incubator program, which gives aspiring arts professionals a chance to choose artists and design exhibitions of their own conception. This show brings together 19 artists organized in three shows that explore the concept of space, albeit in quite different ways.

The first show, In This City, curated by Jennifer Selden, is an array of photographs and installations by Mike Cataldi, Geoff Grace, Amanda Matles, Chuck Miller, Jared Paolini and Rick Sacchetti inspired by the city.

The most intriguing piece is Grace's beauty and nature forms of the 20th gift, a magical and magnificent wall painting of birds in flight executed entirely in clay that seems to soar off the gallery's white walls.

By contrast, All Four Corners, curated by Jackie Milad, is a minimalist experiment whose success can be judged by the fact that the five artists represented - Seong Chun, Catherine Pancake, Minna Philips, Amy Rathbone and Shannon Young - have filled the gallery with works made of such ephemeral materials that they barely seem present.

Philips' thread-and-paint installation piece Cluster, for example, limns out a totally convincing volume of vibrant geometric space in one corner of the gallery with nothing more substantial than a few lengths of string and splashes of color.

In On the Line: Machines, Maps and Memory, curated by Karey Kessler and Pat Goslee, Andy Holtin creates amazing mechanical contraptions out of such unlikely materials as wooden boxes and stethoscopes. The show includes nearly equally ingenious works by Andrew Krieger, Walter Ratzat, Scott Reynolds, Dylan Scholinski, Jen Swan, Perry Steindel, Katy Uravitch and Slyvie van Helden.

The show runs through Sept. 11. The gallery is at 8 Market Place, Suite 100. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-962-8565 or visit www.mdartplace.org.

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