Every year, when the cultural calendar thins out and the heat intensifies, C. Grimaldis Gallery presents a welcome exhibit featuring an array of artists working in a variety of media. The gallery's 40th annual summer show makes a particularly vivid impression.
Spread over two floors, "Summer '17" features mostly recent work by 15 established or emerging artists (prices are $2,000 to $55,000). While satisfying solely on aesthetic terms, the exhibit's ability to provoke — such issues as society, race, culture and consumption are addressed — makes it all the more significant.
The powerful statements start right inside the doorway of the gallery's main floor, where Wesley Clark's "My Big Black America," presented in cooperation with Galerie Myrtis, occupies 10-by-16 feet of wall space.
This striking sculptural map of the United States by the Maryland-based Clark comprises pieces of salvaged wood, all painted black. Some pieces are from old bits of furniture, conjuring images of labor and domestic life. Portions of tree limbs raise much more unsettling imagery.
Opposite Clark's imposing work is what can be viewed as a variant on the American flag by Hasan Elahi, a University of Maryland faculty member well-known for exploring matters of government, citizenship, borders and privacy.
His pigment print "Fifth Horseman" shows shadowy black-and-white figures walking alone or in small clusters visible through an overlay of faded red and white stripes, suggesting isolation and surveillance in equal measure.
The impact is doubly sobering when you learn that the image Elahi has incorporated into his work is by the celebrated Ansel Adams — a 1943 photo taken at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California, where Japanese-Americans were interned.
Also registering potently is an oil painting by North Carolina artist Beverly McIver, "Gracie's White Friends," part of a series featuring a cloth doll of a smiling black girl. That happy face gazes at the viewer; three other dolls, clad in white from head to toe, have their backs turned.
Black faces, less contented, also haunt works from the Smoke Screen series of South African artist Diane Victor, who creates portraits with a technique using a candle held to paper. The resulting carbon images capture people who seem marginalized, or about to be.
Still more faces animate the exhibit — photographs by Lebanese-born Rania Matar documenting the young in refugee camps in Beirut. These deftly composed portraits of children hoping to make money selling flowers or shining shoes personalize a world too often dismissed in a news brief.
Peopleless imagery also commands attention in this show. From Baltimore artist Ben Marcin, for example, there's an almost painterly, close-up photograph of Eutaw Street, and a grim shot of a single row house defiantly standing on an otherwise vacant Philadelphia block.
Imposing images of abandoned building projects in Greece are among the works by Baltimore artist Christos Palios included here. His wonderful photographic still-lifes of dinner tables shot from above, post-meal — bits of food left on plates, half-filled glasses, cell phones and keys resting nearby — become metaphors of contemporary life and waste.
A metaphoric reading is also possible in the case of jutting sculptures by University of Maryland faculty member John Ruppert. These metal castings of splintered tree fragments created by lightning strikes exert a considerable energy.
"One can make a connection to climate change and all the storms we have now," says gallery owner Constantine Grimaldis.
More of Ruppert's bold work is included in the downstairs gallery room, shared with such items as the arresting "Gate," made of iron and glass by Greek sculptor Costas Varotsos.
Inventive wood sculptural pieces, fashioned by Baltimore artist Colin Van Winkle using centuries' old methods and tools, also enliven the space. Same for the refined abstracts by German artist Annette Sauermann made from sandpaper, white cement and light filters.
Speaking of abstracts, the two created this year by New York-based Graham Collins out of remnants from assorted paintings boast remarkable structural integrity and, like the whole of the "Summer '17" exhibit, visual energy.
If you go
"Summer '17" runs through Aug. 26 at C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St. For more information, call 410-539-1080, or go to cgrimaldisgallery.com.