Galleries' big (and bigger) sculptures

Art Review

June 26, 2008|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun art critic

Summer is often a time for surprises on the Baltimore art scene, and the lively, two-for-one sculpture show organized this month by C. Grimaldis Gallery doesn't disappoint.

The exhibition appears simultaneously in two different venues, something not usually seen outside Artscape, the city's annual outdoor arts festival that opens July 18.

The downtown venue features modestly scaled pieces at Grimaldis' own gallery on North Charles Street. The off-site venue, in the cavernous loft at Area 405, a century-old factory building on East Oliver Street that was recently purchased by artists, houses the kind of giant, monumentally scaled works that bespeak big spaces and even bigger ambitions.

Sculptor John Van Alstine, whose works appear in both locations, fills the front gallery at Grimaldis' Charles Street space. The New York-based artist, who has exhibited here regularly for more than a decade, weighs in with his signature assemblages of heavy found and fabricated objects that appear to tumble in slow motion or float weightlessly in space in defiance of the laws of physics.

Over the years, I've gradually warmed to these whimsical stone-and-metal pieces, whose quirky sense of arrested motion somehow seems more geometrically coherent than the artist's previous efforts. Nearly all the sculptures in the current show embody an ideal of modernist elegance that's as pleasing to the mind as to the eye.

A companion show in Grimaldis' rear gallery presents luminous black-and-white photographs of contemporary Havana by Russian artist Alexey Titarenko.

Titarenko's ostensible focus is the city's vibrant street life, played out amid crumbling, 19th-century Spanish colonial architecture and lovingly preserved 1950s-era American automobiles.

Many of the images are populated by the wraithlike forms of passersby whose motion wasn't quite stopped by the camera's slow shutter speed.

These ghostly apparitions seem to float through the images as silvery, nearly transparent blurs that might be benevolent spirits from some higher space-time dimension.

It's a Russian take on Latin American magical realism that detracts not a whit from the profundity of Titarenko's true subject, which is the slow passage of time and the beautiful mysteries it leaves in its wake.

At Area 405, the sculpture show continues with about a dozen very large works that would never fit inside Grimaldis' downtown space.

John Ruppert's enormous iron casts of tree trunks struck by lightning have the primordial gravitas of ancient megaliths and the nobility of Rodin's bust of Balzac. At half a ton apiece, there's no mistaking their weighty import.

The show also features an even more massive work-in-progress by Ruppert: a series of giant, triangular slabs of metal arranged in a semicircle, like huge wedges of green cheese. The piece must weigh at least 10 tons, and it would surely sink straight through the floor of an ordinary building.

What Maren Hassinger's ingenious wire-rope sculptures lack in sheer mass they more than make up for by the prickly delicacy of their construction.

Hassinger braids, weaves and bundles the material's recalcitrant metal strands almost as if they were fabric threads. The mysterious objects she creates, which resemble roots, mosses, hedges, haystacks and other organic structures, seem at once vaguely familiar and utterly strange.

Hassinger's fellow conceptualist Chul-Hyun Ahn weighs in with the latest iteration of his vertigo-inducing light-box constructions, whose infinitely receding spaces are based on the same reflective principle as the endlessly repeated images in a set of barbershop mirrors.

Ahn's piece is built of cinder blocks, fluorescent lights and a two-way-mirror installation that produces the uncanny sensation of standing on the edge of an abyss.

The Area 405 exhibition also includes works by Anthony Caro, Jene Highstein, Christina Iglesias and Jon Isherwood.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

If you go

Olympic Circles: Works from the Beijing Series and Havana run through July 12 at C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St. The off-site show is at Area 405, 405 E. Oliver St. Call 410-539-1080 or go to cgrimaldisgallery.com.

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