Art Column

Critic's Corner//Art

Thousand words? It's overvalued

March 21, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

The Maryland Art Place describes its current show, Daily Encounters, as "an exhibition that raises awareness about media and global communications and the [effect] each has on an individual's personal privacy and security in a technologically-dependent world."

That's certainly a mouthful, but what does it mean?

Statements like this reflect the kind of sleek artspeak people now go to graduate school to learn. The problem is, it's so bloated with platitudes, commonplaces and cliches it could mean practically anything -- or it could mean absolutely nothing at all.

The show presents works by Victoria Crayhon, Bethany Springer and the team of Mark Cooley and Edgar Endress. Each purports to address the process by which private neuroses and obsessions are publicly validated in an increasingly wired and networked world.

Crayhon, a photographer and performance artist, surreptitiously alters the signage on billboards and movie marquees by inserting cryptic personal statements that subvert the public character of these media. She records her acts of vandalism on video, then photographs the altered landscapes to document her handiwork.

It's unclear what purpose is served by these deliberately transgressive acts, which recall the gleeful defiling of public spaces by graffiti artists in the 1980s and '90s.

Is the message "Down with capitalism!" or some such? Who knows? Below the sleek surface of Crayhon's mural-scale prints, one senses the kind of strident, self-aggrandizing gesture that cries "Look at me!" while increasing the level of public discourse or personal awareness not one iota.

Springer's spongy vinyl, steel and foam upholstery sculptures look vaguely like the cell phone towers, satellite dishes and other electronic gizmos they're supposed to represent -- without, however, offering any insight at all into the social structures or the people these networks might serve. The faux hardware is certainly impressive, but as for what it signifies we're still waiting for somebody to beam us up.

On the other hand, I found oddly touching Cooley and Endress' elaborate three-screen video projection of text messages written for gullible subscribers to online dating services and other Web scams.

The piece suggests that people who are isolated, shy or lonely will believe just about anyone who comes along with the comforting illusion that they aren't alone, be it a prospective mail-order bride or the relative of some Third World despot who promises to deposit millions in their bank account (please e-mail your bank account number, address, full name and phone and Social Security numbers).

Of course, this is only a suggestion. In most respects, the work is so disjointed, complicated and prolix it likely means whatever you want.

I wish I could say this was a show with some strong pieces and others, well, not so strong. But like the gallery's above-mentioned description, it's mostly an incoherent exercise in mystification to no discernible end. I walked away still wondering what all the fuss was about.

The show runs through March 31 at Maryland Art Place, 8 Market Place, Suite 100. Call 410-962-8565 or go to mdartplace.org.

School 33 Art Center

School 33 Art Center's first exhibition since the completion of extensive renovations last year presents a group show of seven artists working in a variety of styles and media.

In the main gallery, Sergio Pizzo Barrale's large-scale pastel and graphite drawings of priests and homeless men offer a deeply skeptical view of both the religious leaders and the marginalized individuals whom they purport to help. There's an irony in these gimlet-eyed portraits that seems lifted straight out of Breughel.

On a lighter note, Jennifer Dorsey's deadpan color photos of burgundy, green and yellow wedding gowns hanging on the rack in a bridal rental shop poke gentle fun at the disconnect between the happy couple's cherished illusions of uniqueness and the mass-produced reality.

Anne Chan's deft images of modern office furniture in sophisticated settings lose none of their charm when one realizes the pieces are made out of stacks of silvery paper staples cleverly shaped to look like tables and chairs.

The upstairs gallery features a curious, oddly absorbing video installation by Jennie Thwing and faux oil and acrylic historical paintings by Nicola Knight.

The show, which also includes works by Ian MacLean Davis and Ruth Pettus, runs through March 30 at School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St. Call 410-396-4641 or go to school33.org.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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