Get It Together

Laure Drogoul's diverse and unusual body of work is on display at her alma mater, MICA

January 29, 2009|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,ed.gunts@baltsun.com

Dolly the giant Kewpie doll is in the house. So is the Olfactory Factory, Apparatus for Orchestral Knitting, Haussner's Ball of String and Fugue Chamber for Amnesiacs . Bozo Prison (for four or more) is out on the plaza.

These and other works by Baltimore-based interdisciplinary artist and self-proclaimed "cultural crackpot" Laure Drogoul, created over the past 25 years, have been assembled in one location for the first time in a sprawling, multimedia exhibit that opens tomorrow at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Follies, Predicaments, and Other Conundrums: The Works of Laure Drogoul is the title of the show, which runs through March 15 in the Meyerhoff and Decker galleries, the Gateway building and other campus locations.

Installed with the help of students from the college's Exhibition Development Seminar, it's the first large-scale retrospective of Drogoul's work and one of the largest shows ever mounted at MICA.

"It's a lot of maraschino cherries" in one spot, Drogoul acknowledged last week while taking a break from installing the works. "Crazy."

A native of Jersey City, N.J., Laure (pronounced Laura) Drogoul, 54, earned a bachelor's degree at Temple University in Philadelphia and moved to Baltimore in 1979 to study at MICA, earning a master's degree from its Rinehart School of Sculpture in 1981. She stayed in Baltimore after graduation and has become an influential figure in its art and music scenes, creating a diverse body of work using sculpture, installation, performance and Web-based media.

In a catalog that accompanies the show, Drogoul describes her work as "projects with objects, video, sound and action, whose forms function together in the way a theater might work." She also calls herself a "maximalist" and a "hoarder." One recurring theme to her creations is that they explore the human condition in one way or another. Many are participatory in nature, designed to make viewers an integral part of the art that they've come to experience.

Drogoul's work has received numerous honors and awards, including a 2004 fellowship that allowed her to study in Japan. In 2006, she was the first winner of the prestigious Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize, now granted every year to a visual artist during Baltimore's Artscape festival.

Gerald Ross, MICA's director of exhibitions and curator for the show, said he suggested a retrospective because he has long been impressed by Drogoul's work and wanted to bring it together in one place.

Because Drogoul works with a wide range of media and at a variety of scales, Ross said, her art was an ideal subject for the college's yearlong Exhibition Development Seminar, which is taught by Glenn Shrum and gives students a chance to be involved in every aspect of a major exhibit.

"In Follies, we have an opportunity to explore an extraordinary artist, her influential role in Baltimore's art scene, and how that scene and the essence of what is Baltimore - quirky, spooky, slightly offbeat and darkly comical - is infused and reflected in her work," Ross said. "We are grateful for Laure Drogoul's openness and artistic generosity in making it possible to organize such a dramatic and diverse collection for this exhibition."

Ross added that he finds Drogoul's work particularly intriguing because it's sophisticated, yet also has a simple, do-it-yourself quality that makes it very accessible. Since she is a MICA graduate, he said, "it seemed to be appropriate that we do it here and we do as much as possible."

Judging by the exhibit, there are many subjects that hold Drogoul's interest. The list includes: B-movies, space aliens, animals and humans with big eyes, synthetic fur, the color pink, architectural follies, the sound of knitting needles, lanterns, masks, seances, labyrinths and Baltimore.

The exhibit features many of the pieces that have startled or delighted viewers in previous exhibits and puts them close to each other so they can be compared with the artist's other work.

There's the Bozo Prison, which consists of a giant head that looks like it came from a wicked clown, sitting atop a jail cell-like cage with room for figures inside who may shout insults at passers-by.

There's Dolly, the 25-foot-tall pink Kewpie doll that is lighted from within and repeats, "I Love You, I Love You, I Love You," until observers, initially drawn to the cherubic figure, may want to flee.

There's a giant ball of string, inspired by a similar ball that was kept at the old Haussner's restaurant in East Baltimore and was auctioned off after the restaurant closed. Drogoul used the same white tablecloth material to make the string for the replica, which may prompt viewers to ask whether one ball is any more "authentic" than the other.

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