New Baker Awards exhibit has surface appeal

"Interior/Exterior" by Gary Kachadourian is part of the Baker Artist Awards exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
"Interior/Exterior" by Gary Kachadourian is part of the Baker Artist Awards exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Mitro Hood, Baltimore Museum of Art photo)

Moving through the Baltimore Museum of Art's exhibit of work by the 2011 Baker Artist Awards provides an experience akin to that in the film "Pleasantville." You start in living color and, before you know it, you're swallowed up in a black-and-white world.

That cool, if slightly unsettling, transformation is achieved by an installation called "Interior/Exterior" by Gary Kachadourian, who has filled nearly every square inch of a gallery in the museum.

"I've only done corners of rooms before," the artist said. "Only when I started to install it did I think, 'Wow, this is a big space.'"

Kachadourian, experimental musician Audrey Chen and beatboxer Shodekeh each received a $25,000 Mary Sawyers Baker Prize.

Performance videos have been set up in the BMA to give visitors a taste of the aural artists — Chen using her elastic voice to striking effect, accompanying herself on the cello; Shodekeh demonstrating his extraordinary fusion of technical virtuosity and rich expressive nuance.

Kachadourian decided to go big when creating a new work for the Baker Awards exhibit. It is the largest manifestation yet of a concept he developed in recent years.

He first draws everyday objects — bricks, furniture, foliage — with graphite pencils on standard-size paper. The images are then scanned, enlarged and printed, ready to be pasted on surfaces.

In this case, Kachadourian covered floors and walls with print-outs that, seamlessly pasted together, form a life-size alternate universe.

A fourth or more of the rectangular space has been turned into a living room, with sofas drawn to scale and a view through a window of a vintage Volvo (the artist's) and a fast-food restaurant.

Adding a touch of 3-D to this study in flat surfaces is a separate bathroom with its own walls and ever-so-evocative drawings of plumbing fixtures (museum workers have been joking about what some unsuspecting museum visitors might make of this).

The other walls reveal exterior scenes, including a Dumpster, a telephone pole with a speed limit sigh attached, shrubbery, brick and concrete-block walls. Visitors walk on images of asphalt and grassy surfaces.

Everything, including a drop ceiling over the living room area, is black and white, with a grayish hue that make all of these familiar sights fresh and provocative.

"It's a reassessment of things which could potentially be next to each other at some point," said Kachadourian, who spent 12 days installing "Interior/Exterior."

The drawings capture things the artist has seen, mostly around Baltimore — a tree from Howard Street, a brick wall from a 7-Eleven store, the Dumpster from an apartment complex in Hillendale, a McDonald's in Hamilton. He drew a jersey wall from a local road construction site, but the asphalt from a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.

For Kachadourian, the Baker Prize provides fresh affirmation of his decision to leave his government job in 2009 — for nearly two decades, he worked for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, coordinating Artscape exhibits, among many other things. Since then, he has been pursuing a graduate degree at UMBC.

"There were a lot of reasons to leave" the promotions office, he said, "but mainly, my art required more time that I had with my full-time job."


If you go

The 2001 Baker Artist Awards exhibit runs through Oct. 2 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive. Free. Call 443-573-1700 or go to artbma.org.

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