Art Reigns

Sondheim finalists highlight of exhibits



First it sweltered, then it poured, but the weather seemed hardly to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds that descended on Artscape, Baltimore's 25th annual outdoor festival of the arts.

From funnel cakes to evening concerts there was much that was familiar along the Mount Royal Avenue corridor and elsewhere around the city - but there also were new touches including the 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel in front of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the fireworks on Friday's opening night.

We sent a team of arts writers - pop music critic Rashod Ollison, theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck, classical music critic Tim Smith, restaurant critic Elizabeth Large and art critic Glenn McNatt - to survey the scene. Here's what they thought.

The visual arts at Artscape seemed somewhat less prominent than in years past because of the absence of Maryland Institute College of Art's Station Building as a venue at the lower end of Mount Royal Avenue.

That left the galleries in MICA's Fox Building and Bunting Center and the outdoor sculptures along the avenue's median strip, which -- along with the independent gallery pavilions near the Lyric Opera House -- still provided plenty of lively looking.

The Fox Building's exhibition of finalists for the first Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize, named for the longtime Baltimore civic leader and his wife, was the highlight of the weekend.

The show presented works by eight regional artists, including sculptor Laure Drogoul's 8-foot-tall papier-mache Japanese mask, which won the $25,000 prize.

Patterned after a carved figure Drogoul found at Evergreen House several years ago, the piece was exhibited there in 2004 on the mansion's lawn, where it looked like a humongous bust of the Joker, Batman's arch-enemy.

At MICA, it lay on its side in a darkened gallery, where the glowing light from its blue eyes -- a pair of video screen monitors with images of blinking pupils -- made it look even more sinister. Drogoul calls the work Root -- as in "root of all evil" -- and it's surely creepy enough to suggest more than comic-book villainy.

Two intriguing finalists in the show were Eric Dyer and Jason Zimmerman. Dyer's cylindrical video projections, called zoetropes, were sequences of still images arranged on a record turntable to give the illusion of motion.

Zimmerman's video of a hayride past grazing cattle, projected life-size on the gallery wall, conveyed the lurching, up-and-down movement of the camera over every bump in the road so vividly it induced a kind of vertigo.

I loved the whimsical sculptures on the Mount Royal Avenue median, especially the diminutive, overstuffed greenhouse by Laura Amussen and Audrey Lea Collins' exuberant, life-size leaping deer.

The independent gallery pavilions by Sub-Basement Artist Studios and Current Gallery and Artist Cooperative also caught my attention.

The Current pavilion presented a dozen or so imaginative proposals for recycling neglected properties in the city. Some, such as festooning an abandoned house with solar panels to provide cheap electricity for its neighbors, really made sense.

I also grooved on Sub-Basement's cunningly re-created collector's living room, complete with harbor views, designer colors on the walls and contemporary paintings and sculptures that changed every day during the festival. It's a vision of the good life I can empathize with.

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