Summer reruns at Grimaldis

CRITIC'S CORNER//Art

Sculptures still wonderful the second time around

Art Column

June 14, 2006|By GLENN MCNATT | GLENN MCNATT,SUN ART CRITIC

The summer sculpture show at C. Grimaldis gallery presents a half-dozen artists who have had solo exhibitions at the venue over the past two years and whose return as a group offers gallery patrons an opportunity to revisit some of the highlights of previous seasons.

Grimaldis introduced Baltimoreans to German artist Annette Sauermann's luminous wall-relief sculptures in 2004, when her series of rectangular cast concrete blocks linked by thin, translucent sheets of white plastic film were first shown at the gallery.

Sauermann's minimalist pieces from that period were as elegant as a painting by Mondrian, but they also seemed somewhat severe in character, owing to the absence of color in her mostly black (or gray)-and-white forms.

In the current work, the artist has retained the geometric grid of her earlier pieces, but she also has introduced a surprising new element of color in the form of Plexiglas sheets in primary hues that noticeably brighten the compositions and heighten their impression of luminosity.

Every time I see Anthony Caro's angular, abstract painted steel sculptures, I find myself a little more convinced of this English artist's importance as a modernist innovator.

Caro's vigorous forms recall the influence American abstract-expressionist painting had on artists around the world. Just as the Ab-Exers gave painters license to experiment with new forms and techniques, Caro's rusted and varnished works, with their suggestion of primitive energy and color, enlarged the formal language of 20th-century sculpture in the postwar era.

The two "table pieces" on view at Grimaldis, created 10 years apart in the mid-1970s and '80s, were each in their way daring for the time, and today they look as fresh and vital as ever.

In previous reviews I have described John Van Alstine's heavy, stone-and-steel outdoor sculptures, whose huge elements seem to float weightlessly in defiance of the laws of physics, as representations of arrested motion, as metaphors for the precarious balance that constitutes all life and as abstract desert and mountain landscapes.

None of these descriptions seems completely satisfying; there's a potent aura of mystery and ambiguity in his best sculptures -- like the stunning Sisyphean Circle X (bluestone) in the current show -- that resists being reduced to a single formulation, which is probably as it should be.

There's no real benefit to be derived anyway from too close critical interpretation of these visually impressive pieces; if they manage to provoke wonderment and joy in the viewer, as they surely do, one can say the artist has done his job.

Jon Isherwood's equally mysterious marble sculptures are modeled on plaster casts that have been translated into three-dimensional digital files. The files control a robotic lathe that actually fabricates the pieces, which resemble primitive vessels and containers or the swelling female forms of Stone Age sculpture. The artist applies the finishing touches by hand when he polishes the stone.

Japanese sculptor Osami Tanaka's lovely, post-minimalist pedestal of paraffin, beeswax and steel has been shown in the gallery before, and it's a delight to see it again.

I have not, however, much altered my opinion of sculptor John Ruppert's bronze and iron casts of stones, which I once described as "a somewhat mannered commentary on the relationship between art and nature and our ability to perceive the difference between them ... a strategy that owes a lot to certain French poststructural critical theorists but doesn't mean much outside that rarefied context."

A Sculpture Show runs through July 12 at C. Grimaldis, 523 N. Charles St. Call 410-539-1080.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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