Art That's Up-to-the-minute

Gallery Owner Challenges Artists To Quickly Create Works To Match Her Chosen Topic

Arts Scene

August 04, 2009|By TIM SMITH

When Elise Siegel, the owner and curator of the intimate Positron Gallery in Mount Vernon, says her focus is contemporary art, she means contemporary.

"My whole idea was to come up with a theme for each exhibit and have the artists make their art interpreting that theme in the month before the show. They can lie," she says with a laugh, "but they're supposed to create it in that time."

Paul Maier, one of eight local artists in Positron's current exhibit, calls Siegel's approach "a wonderful challenge. It's kind of fun to do this in a quick period," he says, "like on reality TV, when they tell the people on 'Designer Runway,' 'This is what you have to make.' "

Besides the thematic and freshly created elements, there's another condition at Positron. "I limit this to 3-D, mixed-media works," Siegel says. "I like that you can't really make a print of a 3-D work. It's like you have a piece of the person."

Siegel's theme for this show is "Live Wire." She got the inspiration looking up from the compact backyard of her rowhouse on Read Street and seeing a maze of power lines from all the buildings, an image that suggested both power and danger, necessity and fear.

The artists, most of them friends of Siegel's, responded in a variety of ways, from the literal (Joshua Sylvia's crisply realistic painting "Power Lines" incorporates actual wire) to the whimsical (Ariella Mohr's "Chair Monster" is exactly that).

Maier's contributions combine human imagery with bits of computer circuitry, creating distinctive sculptural items that underline how we're all wired in various ways. Mike Fila's punny "Power Suit" is a larger than life-sized, wood-and-fiberglass outline of a suited figure, illuminated from within by fluorescent lighting.

Anne Israel's compelling items include "Cathedral," fashioned from an old RCA portable television. Inside the hollowed-out set are all sorts of found objects that have been imaginatively used to create a seemingly vast church-in-miniature.

Another of her 3-D pieces (untitled) presents a neat, tiny, peaceful living room with an electric chair sitting just outside the kitchen doorway. A two-part, wall-mounted object incorporates the hospital bracelet Israel wore when she was admitted for depression; the live-wire element to this item hangs above, in the form of a subtly glowing chandelier made out of the artist's pill bottles.

Positron's young-energy vibe comes as much from the art as from the owner, who is all of 23. Siegel, who grew up in Ellicott City, moved to Baltimore a few months ago from New Jersey, where she had been employed by a pharmaceutical company. She now works in Gaithersburg, where she is an organic chemist for a biotech company.

"When I was living in Jersey City," she says, "I had friends there who had galleries. I started collecting art. I've always been into art. I really like adding beauty to the world. When I was looking for a home in Mount Vernon, I saw this space and thought it was perfect for a gallery."

Much of the first floor area, with its gleaming wood floors, has been turned into the cozy salon that opened in late June with mixed-media works by New Jersey artist Maurizio Zuluaga. Viewing hours currently are confined to Saturdays, when Siegel is off.

"I could see this gallery taking off really well in the next six months," Maier says. "It could be a big draw for this neighborhood."

The next Positron exhibit might be a draw as well, given the theme Siegel has devised. "It's 'Summer Sensual,' " she says. "And there will be some erotic pieces."

"Live Wire" continues through Aug. 15 at the Positron Gallery, 210 W. Read St. The gallery is open Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or by appointment. Call 551-697-3790 or go to

'Boheme' at Wolf Trap

The ever-dynamic Wolf Trap Opera has had a strong season already, with an updated staging of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" in June and a vivid version of Monteverdi's "The Return of Ulysses" in July, both in the cozy Barns at Wolf Trap. The company moves into the big Filene Center to perform Puccini's evergreen "La Boheme" with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Kevin Newbury, who directed the Baltimore Symphony's semi-staged presentation of Bernstein's "Mass" last season, will direct a cast featuring Hana Park (Mimi), Diego Torre (Rodolfo), Ava Pine (Musetta) and Daniel Billings (Marcello). The production will incorporate video projections by S. Katy Tucker; in a possible nod to the "Boheme"-based musical "Rent," the imagery will suggest contemporary New York, rather than 19th-century Paris.

Steven Lord will conduct the performance at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Wolf Trap, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna, Va. Tickets are $10 to $60. Call 877-965-3872 or go to

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