Clever takes on familiar elements


Two galleries offer appealing images at group exhibitions

August 02, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The summer group show at Goya Contemporary offers an interesting mix of the new and the familiar.

Every time I see Kay Hwang's intricate, enigmatic drawings of what look like standardized electrical or electronic components, I'm amazed by the sheer ingenuity that goes into making these images.

Hwang builds up her compositions from generic shapes that seem vaguely familiar, although it's impossible to say exactly what they are.

They could be lamps from a track-lighting system or the tiny, barrel-shaped shirt pins that come with rented tuxedos.

They could be cans of house paint, nautical searchlights, electrical widgets, miniature Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, whatever -- it's impossible to pin down the scale of the objects against their blank, white backgrounds.

In any case, Hwang arranges them in complex forms that appear to float above, rather than on, the surface of their Denril supports. Denril is a kind of translucent plastic material that seems to amplify the deliberate spatial ambiguity of the images.

I found these drawings fascinating. By some strange alchemy, they resemble a host of contradictory things -- fantastic architectural or industrial plans, the cryptic pictorial instructions that come with IKEA's modular furniture, a set of Tinkertoys or even some type of flowering tree. And despite their patently obsessive character, the designs ultimately have an effect that is unexpectedly soothing and restful.

Morgan Cohen's large color photographs mounted on aluminum perhaps aim for a comparable trompe l'oeil effect in their depiction of mundane household objects such as strips of peeling wallpaper or a gleaming enamel bathtub.

The frisson we should get from these pieces is somewhat spoiled, however, by the white frames in which they are hung, which cast a distracting dark shadow across the top of each image that reads as if it were actually part of the photograph. It's a glitch that makes for needless visual confusion.

The show, which runs through Aug. 27, also includes works by Melodie Provenzano, Dennis Farber, Donald Baechler, Louisa Chase, Luis Flores and Ruth Root.

The gallery is at 3000 Chestnut Ave., Suite 210. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. Call 410-366-2001, or visit

Galerie Francoise

Galerie Francoise's exhibition First Look is a summer group show of artists who will appear during the fall.

The piece that grabs you by the lapel and draws you in is Frances Paley's big digital color photograph in the front window.

You'll probably do a double take over this image, which seems to depict a cow, a bear and a moose hamming it up with some birds and a rabbit inside an old-fashioned taxidermy lab, surrounded by polished wooden specimen cases and vitrines.

Turns out the animals are all stuffed. The artist simply arranged them in the room (which is real) as if they were "posing" for her camera. Even knowing that doesn't make the image any less uncanny, however.

Robert Noonan, who produced a series of atmospheric photographs of the sculpted shrubbery at Ladew Topiary Gardens a few years back, has turned his lens on the fish and other aquatic wildlife of the Chesapeake Bay, which he presents as eerie, skeletal silhouettes against inky black backgrounds.

Noonan's shot of a silvery bay rockfish is pretty much what you'd expect one to look like, but his jellyfish will probably send a shiver up your spine despite its weird beauty, especially if you've ever been stung by one.

Even if you haven't, this creature's translucent, bulbous body and long, dangling tentacles are just menacing enough to remind you of every icky alien space monster that's ever terrified moviegoers.

I also liked Josh Dorman's clever collages, which remind one of maps or aerial photographs, and John Streckfus' whimsical animals, which are made from found objects and which, mercifully, seem a whole lot friendlier than Noonan's spectral jellyfish from hell.

Also represented in the show are Judy Bass, Alexa Brooks, Scott Cawood, Annet Couwenberg, Alyssa Dennis, Nancy O'D Wilson, Judy Heimann, Trace Miller, Albert Paley, Joan Stolz, Laura Wesley Ford and James Von Minor.

The show runs through Aug. 6. The gallery is at 2360 W. Joppa Road, Green Spring Station in Lutherville. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Call 410-337-2787.

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