Daring exhibits launch art center at Towson




The sparkling New Center for the Arts at Towson University is an architectural delight - comfortable, spacious and cheerfully illuminated by banks of multicolored overhead skylights.

So it's fitting that both the inaugural exhibition in the new Asian Arts Gallery and the faculty show in the building's main gallery should be as adventurous as the building that houses them.

Searching for a Path, in the Asian Arts Gallery, presents works by seven contemporary Asian artists, all of whom immigrated to the United States from their native countries.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Today section about a faculty exhibition at Towson University misidentified the artist who painted Brueghel-esque fables of explorer Marco Polo. She is Nora Sturges.

Because the arts of Asia have such a different history from those of the West, the artists in this show all find themselves attempting in one way or another to negotiate the cultural divide between the two traditions - hence the show's title.

Mansoora Hassan, for example, was born in Peshawar, Pakistan, earned a master of fine arts degree in New York, and has lived in Africa and South America, among other places.

Her complex compositions, which are painted, printed and embossed on richly textured, handmade papers of her own invention, employ multiple layers of imagery based on traditional Rajput miniature painting.

The layering in Hassan's works also suggests the veils worn by traditional Muslim women and their association with the idea of aspects of a culture that remain masked and hidden from view.

Jyung Mee Park, a Korean-born artist who teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art, addresses another kind of discontinuity in her work, the frightening existential gulf opened up by the onset of a serious illness.

The artist's own experience with a life-threatening condition initially led her to create paper sculptures that reflected on the ephemeral nature of life and to find employment in a hospice caring for terminally ill patients.

Park's meditations on the meaning of life and death led her to create the conceptual work on view at Towson, a wraith-like installation of glass sculptures that take the form of a final conversation between someone who is dying and those left behind: I love you, I'm sorry, Forgive me, I forgive you, Thank you, Good bye.

Each glass-lettered phrase is only a few inches high and barely a foot long, but in their entirety they run the whole length of the gallery wall on which they are mounted. Pairs of overhead lights above each phrase cast patterns of shadows that are like ghostly doppelgangers of the emotion-laden words.

I was also greatly impressed by the architectonic wood constructions of Chinese sculptor Foon Sham, who showed similar works at the artist-run cooperative Gallery Four this year, and by the incredibly complex, mandala-like geometric abstractions of Indian-born Anil Revri, which were inspired by the tantra philosophy that evolved from Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism.

The exhibition also includes installation and sculpture by Yuriko Yamaguchi of Japan, drawings and sculpture by Taiwanese-born Hsin-Hsi Chen, and metal arts and jewelry by Korean artist Komelia Hongja Okim.

The faculty show in the New Art Center's main gallery revisits a number of works exhibited previously at other Baltimore venues as well as new works.

For example, Alzaruba's long-running project involving fanciful outdoor installations that resemble various kinds of large boats and ships is recalled here in a spooky digital image of tall trees inside a fence-like enclosure, and by a whimsical installation made entirely out of shredded plastic garbage bags.

The latter piece is titled Recycled Prophecies, a phrase that could refer to the billowing sailcloth of one of the artist's mock-portentous vessels - or to the more mundane reality that you never really know what's going to turn up in the trash.

I'm always happy to see Allyson Smith's Brides Fight Back, an outrageously over-the-top feminist allegory set on the White House lawn in which a party of Kalashnikov-toting women face down the evil forces of capitalist patriarchy.

I also enjoyed seeing again James von Minor's geometric abstractions, which were on view at Gallery Francoise this year, and Nora Struggles' Brueghel-esque painted fables of explorer Marco Polo, which Maryland Art Place has exhibited. The show also includes fine recent works by Nahid Toontoochi, Richard Hellman, Trace Miller, Cara Ober and Richard Holt, among others.

The Faculty Show runs through Dec. 10. "Searching for a Path" opens Saturday and runs through Dec. 15. Both exhibitions are in the Center for the Arts building on the Towson campus, 8000 York Road. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.


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