Observing art

Editorial Notebook

July 16, 2005|By Ann LoLordo

RENE TREVINO maps the relationship of two lovers from a variety of angles, intimate and iconographic, sexual and symbolic, cultural and crass. He does it in a series of 100 images printed over hand-painted lacy wallpaper. He calls it The Propaganda Series, Part I.

Geoff Grace puts up a tree, painted with liquid clay and whiskey, that soars to the 30-foot height of a wall. Entering the gallery you can't help but look up. How small you feel standing beside this towering tree whose leafy top maps a series of island nations. He calls it our songs will be carried by the salt and by the water.

Scott Berzofsky, Nicholas Petr and Nicholas Wisniewski present an aerial photograph map of Baltimore, block by block, that covers the entirety of a gallery wall. Frame by frame, it shows the city from its rowhouses to its institutions to its lakes. It's a dizzying view from afar, an up-close perspective that can best be examined with binoculars. They call it Pirate Baltimore.

The artists are part of an exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art titled Observation Deck. What sets the show apart from the French drawings, horses and Cone sisters' collection of lace also on exhibit is that Observation Deck showcases young Maryland artists at the state's premier art house in the run-up to and through Baltimore's annual festival of the arts, which begins Friday.

It's a first in Artscape's 24-year history, a welcome celebration of the city's artist community. Such a debut shouldn't have taken this long in a city of Baltimore's size that wants to recruit and retain working artists and is moving to establish a new arts district north of Pennsylvania Station. It's not that Maryland artists haven't exhibited at the BMA before; multimedia works and paintings by renown artists Joyce Scott and Raoul Middleman come to mind. But this show hosts Maryland artists who are young, early in their careers, recent graduates of the Maryland Institute College of Art, art teachers and professors who live and work here.

BMA Director Doreen Bolger recognizes the role of the city's cultural organizations in nurturing them, a combined effort by museums, galleries, arts patrons, colleges and City Hall that benefits Baltimore. "Artists are really important in capturing the vitality of the city," she says.

Being part of a curated museum show was a "can't be missed" opportunity for several of the artists. The expanse of gallery space, the lighting, being selected for the show from hundreds of candidates by New York artist Gary Simmons, collaborating around a theme, working with a professional installation crew - all firsts for Rene Trevino. "I'm tremendously honored. It's the first museum that I can put on my rM-isumM-i," said the recent MICA grad.

The show's theme, vantage point and perspective in contemporary art resonated with Mr. Trevino. "I've spent my whole life observing and researching things that are going to be in my art. ... I'm always on deck observing."

But to view the show solely as a regional exhibition would be a mistake, says curator Darsie Alexander. "Baltimore is able to stand up to other cities in terms of the quality and work being produced here," she says.

What delights Ms. Bolger is the serendipitous symmetry of aspects of the show with other BMA works. The lacy pattern in Mr. Trevino's Propaganda tableau complements Piper Shepard's floor-to-ceiling, hand-cut, lace-like window panels displayed across from the exhibit's entrance. Ms. Shepard, a MICA teacher, was asked to create the window installation based on the lace collection of the sisters Cone on display in the gallery that bears their name.

The works link the present with the past, contemporary art with a centuries-old craft, a young Mexican-American artist with French, Italian and Belgian lace makers. They create a connection that is unexpected, surprising and memorable.

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