he Maryland Institute College of Art is awash in absorbing, occasionally provocative, exhibits these days.
As for the provocative, consider "In This, I Believe," a juried show on view through Sunday with works by students, faculty and staff that address issues of faith and spirituality. It's part of MICA's Unity Week, an annual project started in 2008 to focus on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
A mix of reactions to the subject matter can be detected in this display, which starts in the lobby of the Brown Center and moves to a corridor upstairs.
Viewed head-on, Kyle Dunn's installation, "Confessional," is a literal depiction of a confession booth, but the intricately detailed partition seems to combine communication, reverence, intimacy and, perhaps, fear. The back wall, covered in a mirror, adds a twist - reminding viewers that, before confronting the confessor, they must first confront themselves.
A pair of untitled mixed media works by Omer Wasim has haunting implications about freedom of expression, religious or otherwise. In one, a young woman stares at the viewer, her mouth taped. In the other, only the subject's mouth and frightened eyes can be seen through the peeled-away bits of white cloth that obscure the rest of the face.
Among the most overtly religious contributions: Julia Ashley Hammer's "Feet of Forgiveness," a small, potent interpretation in plaster, hair and other objects conjuring images of Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus; and a compelling altar installation created by Leslie King-Hammond in response to the Haitian crisis.
From the mystical (Hyung In Kim's untitled oil portrait that suggests a misty icon) to the wry (Anna Fine Foer's vibrant, finely detailed collage "Entertaining the Sacred"), "In This, I Believe" makes its impact with a relatively small number of works in a modest amount of space.
"Warren Seelig: Textile per se" makes its impact with many pieces spread through two large galleries in MICA's Brown Center and Fox Building. This enormously engaging retrospective of the Maine-based artist, who specializes in fiber, opened last month and runs through March 14.
The display traces Seelig's creative path, starting with an early-1970s earth-toned woven wall-hanging that would have been right at home in a dorm room of the time. "As hideous as it is, it shows a great ability to understand the structure of cloth," says Susie Brandt, chair of fiber at MICA and curator of the exhibit.
Seelig's subsequent hand-woven works from that decade reveal remarkable imagination and vitality of texture and structure. "Vertical Shield No. 4" yields an intricately twisted keyboard-like pattern; "Conjuncture," made of double-woven cotton and polyester inserts, creates a striking circular pattern.
Geometric-shaped fiber pieces in bold '80s colors give way in the '90s to sculptural pieces of stainless steel spokes and fibrous elements that look like spectral textile machines. The massive "Blue Oval," with vinyl-coated mesh encircling intricate spokes, has a startling grace and symmetry as it floats from the ceiling. Even the items in this series that are attached to the wall seem to be taking flight.
The exhibit includes examples of Seelig's latest series, "Shadowfields," where objects - more than a thousand Maine rocks in the massive, yet seemingly weightless, "Stone Carpet" - are attached to spokes from a metal trellis on the wall. Circles of fluorescent Plexiglas in "Colored Light" seem to dance; same for the Lucite balls, arranged with the intricacy of a DNA diagram, in "Crystal."
This examination of Seelig's subtly evolved career has a lesson for students. "If you stick with a crazy obsession for years and years," Brandt says, "it's amazing where it can take you." There's a lesson in that for the rest of us, too. It's a great show.
Next week brings another exhibit: "The Telepathy Drawings," opening Jan. 27 and running through March 10 at MICA's Bunting Center.
Since 2005, adjunct photography faculty member John Morris and Christina Ayala (aka "Princess Di") have been collaborating on art created by means of mental communication. "I'll think of a thought for seven minutes, and Princess Di will draw what she receives," Morris says.
Some results are closer than others. "One time I was thinking of Jon Voight and she ended up drawing a burrito," Morris says. "There's something funny, at least to me, about that."
The seven-minute sessions are photographed; that image and the resulting drawing are put together to form the works on display. Visitors will get to try out the process at a "telepathy station" set up in the gallery.
Obviously, the exhibit asks for a certain degree of faith. "I'm more of a skeptic," Morris says. "My partner tends to believe more. It will be interesting to have this exhibit at MICA. Skeptics abound in art school."
Not necessarily just there. I'm picking up some doubtful thoughts from a few readers right now.
Chesapeake Concert Opera
It's not clear that there's great demand for a second company here to perform opera in concert form (no sets or costumes) with only piano accompaniment - Baltimore Concert Opera, launched last season, was the first - but another one will debut this weekend. Chesapeake Concert Opera, with a goal of "bridging the gap between school and the stage," has planned no fewer than six presentations for its inaugural season, featuring young singers from this area and beyond.
Up first is Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," featuring soprano Rebecca Gordon, mezzo Kala Maxym, tenor Colin McNamara, baritone Tad Czyzewski and pianist Sophia Vastek. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Memorial Episcopal Church, 1407 Bolton St. Tickets are $10 and $15. Go to chesapeakeconcertopera.org.