Works reflect artists' mistrust of modern life


Critic's Corner//Art


In 18th-century Venice, the Italian landscape painter Giovanni Antonio Canale, known as Canaletto, did a brisk business selling fictitious architectural views to the wealthy English gentlemen visiting his country.

Though Canaletto was perfectly capable of producing precise renderings of well-known landmarks, he also specialized in what were known as capricci -- wholly invented scenes of monumental gates, towers, castles, bridges and other impressive structures that existed only in the artist's fertile imagination.

Courtney Jordan's elaborately detailed drawings of bridges, construction cranes, office towers and apartment buildings, on view in the group show On the Verge, at Sub-Basement Artist Studios, pay homage to Canaletto's fantastic architectural visions.

FOR THE RECORD - An art review published in Wednesday's Today section of an exhibition at Sub-Basement Artist Studios incorrectly listed the address of the gallery. It is at 118 N. Howard St.
The Sun regrets the error.

Jordan's meticulously precise renderings do manage, at first glance, to look just enough like something you might see at a downtown construction site. But closer inspection reveals their utter violation of the laws of physics, not to mention urban zoning codes.

However, unlike Canaletto's romantically inspired constructions, with their effusive evocations of the poetic sublime, there is something faintly sinister about Jordan's aggressively contemporary architectural fantasies, with their flawless but banal gleaming steel skeletons and coldly rational designs.

A similar existential unease seems to imbue the works of all the artists in On the Verge, a show that continually returns to the theme of alienation and loneliness in a post-industrial consumer society that regards itself as the last word on the possibility of human happiness.

Paul Jeanes' skillful collage drawings of pigeons, gulls, sparrows and other species of avian wildlife, for example, display a disquieting sense of disorientation that makes one wonder whether all these hovering fowl might not after all suddenly turn and wreak havoc upon us unsuspecting humans below, like the angry feathered avengers in Alfred Hitchcock's classic suspense thriller The Birds.

David Stanger's strange, mirror-image self-portraits, which have the disturbingly ambiguous open-endedness of Rorschach ink blots, similarly suggest that definitions of the self are intrinsically unstable and probably unreliable.

And Nicole Barrick's unsettling sculptural forms crafted from human hair -- there's one piece that looks like a gargantuan hairball coughed up by my cat, then enlarged to monumental proportions -- are edgy enough on a gut level to simultaneously repel and attract even the most adventurous viewers.

The exhibition is accompanied by a rambling, quasi-poetic, stream-of-consciousness essay by Justin Gershwin that manages to convey the overall mood of disillusion.

These young artists seem united by a deep mistrust of the official happy talk of politicians and the media about progress defined purely in terms of economic growth and technological innovation.

There's a neurotic, obsessive-compulsive quality to the works that seems to reflect the anxious, dyspeptic temper of the times.

The artists of On the Verge, a title that evokes not only the boundary between present and future but also the line between sanity and insanity, have personalized what once might have been expressed in partisan terms.

"On the Verge" runs through June 3 at Sub-Basement Artist Studios, 188 N. Howard St. Call 410-659-6950.

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