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In Baltimore's art scene

, we're accustomed to viewing dainty, craft-inspired artwork in former auto-body shops, looking at delicate paintings in filthy warehouses, and encountering conceptual pieces in needle-strewn alleys. There are few combinations of material/process/context that feel subversive anymore. But David Page's work in

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The Object is Dead

-featuring tools, weapons, and other objects quilted between industrial felt and vinyl, hung like paintings in the sunny parlor of Jordan Faye Contemporary's Park Avenue brownstone-legitimately caught me off guard.

It wouldn't do the work justice to say that the 21 panels, in all their oddly sterile grittiness, were surprising because of their contrast with the pleasant domestic setting of the gallery. Instead, they disorient because the exhibit aggressively positions itself in confrontation with the at-large culture of object display, using a language that alternately invites and resists translation.

The work was challenging to approach. At first glance, the objects read as lumpy paintings trying to escape the walls. Everything seemed to have an unfamiliar texture and an odd palette of clashing neutrals and fluorescents.

My eyes settled on "docks" and "docks [orange]" as friendly ports of entry to the exhibition, immediately eye-catching with the bright color and strong graphic quality of nautical-looking hooks suspended in panels of varying sizes. When viewed up close, the surface treatment of the pieces is gorgeous. The vinyl is painstakingly quilted around the objects like vacuum-form packaging. The topstitching binding the membrane to the felt is executed so precisely it would give a Dior purse a run for its money.

Moving around the room, I found myself contemplating the skill and patience it took to produce the vessels more than I thought about the objects they contained. The rings of stitches encircling each pocket transform the silhouette of the objects they contain into simplified, rune-like symbols. The jump-stitches and stray threads left dangling from otherwise flawless pieces of sewing seemed like deliberate attempts to ward off any associations with the art-object's delicacy.

In Page's manifesto-like statement, he argues, "We are embarrassed by objects and feel the need to defend their ownership and production . . . The useful object, if it survives, is more often than not displayed [as] an artifact or even a relic, functioning more as an image than a discrete object." I'm not sure I agree with that sentiment, and I see a more compelling tension in the ambiguous, conflicted nature of Page's artwork than a clear didactic intent. The art objects already seem embarrassed for themselves. The "unfinished" quality of the stray threads reads as an attempt to negate the "preciousness" of labor-intensive process. The felt and vinyl constructions seem self-conscious about their complacency in the apparatus of display; they are, in essence, picture frames-elevating/castrating the once-humble/once-functional instruments they contain. However, they can't quite function decoratively. There's something adamantly anti-luxurious about the materials from which they are constructed. The forms hang on the wall, mimicking the display of paintings or tapestries, but are conspicuously affixed via visible hardware and steel grommets that penetrate the artwork. The cumulative impression is of an absurdist garage-organizing system one might purchase inexpensively from a big-box retailer. It's effective.

Page expresses concern that the contemporary means of production and consumption distance us from the experience of tools. Reading his statement, I couldn't help but think of the antiquated farm equipment hanging decoratively on the walls of so many eateries. Perhaps, rather than illustrating embarrassment,

The Object is Dead

predicts a future nostalgia. If Pottery Barn is still in business a century from now, they might very well market "decorations" like these to those who will miss the good old days of Home Depot.

In all honesty, I'm still not sure what to think about

The Object is Dead

. I think that means it's a success.

One of my favorite moments in the show is a group of potentially dangerous objects. Scissors appropriately titled "Mother's constant worry" are frozen in mid-snip, safely wrapped and preserved away from stray fingers. Two toy guns, one orange and one blue, are ominously entitled "play, not play." At a cursory glance, the blue gun looks real next to its fluorescent orange double. This color-play is carried over to "reliquary," in which the outline of a gun is visible in an opaque orange vinyl square. An orange gun always signifies "toy," but, here, that confidence is questioned-the orange is just a veil-the viewer cannot know what is actually beneath the vinyl membrane (in the material lists, the ready-made component is always referred to as simply "object"). Similarly, ". . . . or art thou but a dagger of the mind. . . ." implies a knife beneath midnight-blue vinyl. The shape is vague enough that it could contain any number of objects or nothing at all.

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That

Macbeth

soliloquy is an apt reference point for engaging with many pieces in the show; "I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible . . . To feeling as to sight?" When recontextualized as an image, the baseball bat in Page's "swing" still looks familiar, but cannot be felt in the way it was intended. The picture plane (established by the felt and vinyl) physically intersects the bat at the place our hands would instinctually grip it. This implied attack on ergonomics might be the strangest strategy employed in the body of work.

The still-life genre was first developed as a strategy for indexing one's material wealth. Renaissance painters strove to represent visually the tactile sensations of touching one's belongings on a two-dimensional canvas.

The Object is Dead

could be seen as the bookend to that process. Hanging conspicuously above the fireplace in Jordan Faye Contemporary's parlor gallery, there is one last David Page piece. It's a blank canvas, quilted slightly into the third dimension, backed by felt, and crucified to the wall through grommets. It is titled, simply, "object."

David Page's

The Object is Dead

is on display at the Jordan Faye Contemporary through May 31. There will be an Artist's talk on May 24 at 12:30 p.m.

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