Photos expose value of UMBC gallery

Critic's Corner//Art

Art column

April 11, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

With its collection of some 2 million vintage and contemporary photographs, the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County is one of the underappreciated cultural gems of the region.

The Kuhn gallery has been collecting photographs since the 1970s, when chief curator Tom Beck negotiated the purchase of a superb portfolio of Depression-era images by Walker Evans and a major collection of documentary photography by Lewis Hine, the early 20th- century crusader for child-labor legislation.

In the decades since, the gallery has continued to acquire photographs by such modern masters as Alfred Stieglitz, Lotte Jacobi, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson, as well works by 19th-century giants such as Mathew Brady, William Henry Jackson and Carleton Watkins.

The current show, titled Highlights: Recent Acquisitions of the Photography Collections, presents about 50 photographs that have entered the collection over the past decade.

In addition to stellar images by such internationally known stars as Mary Ellen Mark, Eliot Porter, Pete Turner, Joel Meyerowitz, Ralph Gibson and Gilles Peress, the show presents a number of important Maryland photographers, including A. Aubrey Bodine, Roland L. Freeman and Barbara Young.

For example, the late Bodine, a longtime Sun photographer, is represented by one of his signature maritime views of the Chesapeake Bay, executed in the Pictorial style for which he was renowned.

By the 1920s, Pictorialism's painterly aesthetic, derived from late 19th-century Impressionism, had largely been supplanted by the emergence of Modernism, though artists like Bodine continued to work in the style for decades afterward.

Bodine's dramatic, atmospheric photographs of sea and sky are a reminder that, in the hands of a master, Pictorialism could be a style of great emotional and expressive power, even when it no longer represented the artistic avant-garde.

The photographs of Freeman, a Baltimore native, pay homage to the unique culture of the African-American a-rabs from whom he is descended.

Freeman's sensitive portraits of these hard-working street vendors and their families lend them a dignity the larger society often was loath to acknowledge before his pictures celebrated their way of life.

Young, a psychiatrist, was one of the earliest pioneers of color art photography, starting in the late 1950s, and a champion of the medium to institutions such as New York's Museum of Modern Art in an era when conventional wisdom insisted that only black-and-white images deserved to be called art.

Her photographs -- both those that feature nature and landscape subjects and her deeply humanistic photographic essays on the island peoples of the Caribbean -- display the elegant and precise use of light and color to evoke a mood that eventually won over even the most determined skeptics.

Highlights: Recent Acquisitions of the Photography Collection runs through May 27 at the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery at UMBC, 1000 Hilltop Circle in Catonsville. Call 410-455-2270 or go to

Two sides of Middleman

Raoul Middleman's joyfully expressionistic portraits, landscapes and genre paintings, on view at C. Grimaldis Gallery, are completely of a piece with this ebullient and prolific artist's previous work.

Middleman is a past master of the quicksilver gesture that turns paint into a living, breathing thing. His landscapes are executed with such a lively, sure touch that they seem almost to leap out of their frames.

For years, he has produced Maryland landscapes, for example, that make everything in their purview seem deeply familiar while remaining wholly original and fresh.

In the current show, Middleman has included several landscapes executed during his sojourns through Europe that seem more studied and composed than their Maryland counterparts.

It's almost as if these were homages to the stoic geometries Cezanne recorded in his landscapes of the region around his native Aix-en-Provence, France, but rendered in Middleman's own inimitable style.

Something similar could be said of the artist's searching self-portrait that opens the show. Against a dark-green background, the painter looks out with a guarded expression that hints at the same mortality that Rembrandt explored in his own late self-portraits.

Being Middleman, however, the show also has a lighter side, including an over-the-top 1960s-era excursion into Pop Art and a delightful group of recent watercolor landscapes that demonstrate his absolute mastery of his materials.

Raoul Middleman: Pop to Plein-Air runs through April 28 at C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St. Call 410-539-1080 or go to cgrimaldis

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