Art about art: Works combine history, whimsy


Art Review

February 04, 2005|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Look at an ancient Greek statue missing its limbs, and you realize how fragmented the art-historical record can be. Museums do their best to collect, preserve and interpret the treasures of the past, and visitors likewise aim to make sense of it all.

An especially savvy visitor, such as Baltimore artist Scott Ponemone, is able to appreciate the objects for their aesthetic appeal as well as whatever stories they may hold. Ponemone's exhibit of watercolors at the Highlandtown gallery, Schiavone Edward Contemporary Art, is about the museum-going experience, specifically that of viewing the Egyptian, Greek and Roman and medieval art objects at the Walters Art Museum. In addition, the artist, who also is on the staff of The Sun, presents several watercolors inspired by trips to Italy.

Regardless of whether the depicted artworks have survived intact or in pieces, Ponemone thinks of them in fragmentary terms. Although the artist remains faithful to the look of the artwork produced by a particular culture, he's otherwise fanciful in his compositional juxtaposition of objects. Similarly, while there is an art-historical basis for his decorative patterning and assertive palette, there also is a playful sensibility. He strikes a balance between erudition and sensory enjoyment, with the latter quality making the strongest impression.

True to its title, Scott Ponemone: Rediscoveries, the exhibit prompts you to think about cultural remnants being linked together in unexpected ways. In one of the Egyptian-themed watercolors, Vessels, sculptures representing birds, a crocodile, a cat, a lion and other creatures are stacked on top of each other in an amusingly hierarchical composition that makes you wonder if the artist has decided to rearrange the Egyptian Pantheon a bit.

Another Egyptian-minded watercolor, The Thinker, features a fragmentary sculpture of a thoughtful-looking man amid several fragmentary sculptural depictions of animals, birds and human feet.

Although these images might lead you to think about the scattered shards of a civilization, the surrounding decorative patterning has the effect of stylistically connecting the pictorial elements.

Many of Ponemone's works rely on boldly conceived and brightly colored floral or abstract decorative patterns that are as assertive as the figurative imagery. However, some of the most effective watercolors derive their strength from what can be thought of as architectural patterning.

Among the medieval-themed watercolors, Fate depicts a grayish-hued, leaf-and-flower-patterned rosette window like those in a cathedral wall. This makes an impressively solid and skillfully composed picture in its own right, but Ponemone goes from realistic depiction to truly imaginative response with his handling of the six window openings.

Don't expect conventional stained glass, however. Instead, each opening contains human limbs derived from various art-historical sources. In one, you'll see a hand holding a rope; in another, two feet bound with a rope; and so on, in a circular and spare presentation of tightly cropped body fragments that inevitably remind you of religious suffering and, indeed, wheels of fate.

The exhibit doesn't always take you from beautiful (if enigmatic) imagery toward deeper thoughts, but it prompts you to think about cultural patterns. For a collection of fragments, it holds together very well.

Scott Ponemone: Rediscovered

Where: Schiavone Edward Contempory Art, 244 S. Highland Ave.

When: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturdays, and by appointment. Through Feb. 12

Call: 410-534-2212

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