The importance that Columbia founder James Rouse placed on the arts is reflected in an exhibit at the Howard County Arts Council that is part of the ongoing celebration of Columbia’s 50th birthday. “Selections from the Rouse Company/the Howard Hughes Corporation Art Collection” includes artwork that once was on display in its lakefront headquarters building.
Most of this art has been in storage since 2013, and the Frank Gehry-designed headquarters building itself is now devoted to purposes including the art of fine food thanks to its current use as a Whole Foods store.
Back in the day, employees and visitors at the Rouse Co. headquarters encountered this art as they went about their daily business. It surely did not hurt to look at beautiful art while creating a new city that valued high-quality urban design principles.
As you would expect, some of the exhibited art in the present exhibit directly relates to the city’s early years. Most prominently, sculptor Pierre DuFayet’s six-foot-tall “People Tree Maquette” is a nice reminder that the lofty iconic sculpture that stands beside the downtown waterfront was the result of careful planning.
As that sculpture’s interlocking human forms soar above the viewer and reach out into space, they symbolize the collective spirit of this place.
For directly representational depictions of familiar Columbia sites, Don Hilderbrandt has the following watercolors: ‘Columbia Fountain,” “Lake Kittamaqundi,” “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” “Oakland Mills” and “Wilde Lake.” The artist’s crisply-defined architectural lines, gentle presentation of the landscape and relatively subdued colors emphasize how well buildings and nature got along in the new city.
Other artists in the exhibit do not reference Columbia, but they do tend to make work that would have a calming effect if encountered on an office wall.
The late Eugene “Bud” Leake, who was the longtime president of the Maryland Institute College of Art, was also an esteemed landscape painter who favored the scenery of northern Harford and Baltimore counties. His restrained palette was especially suitable for landscapes such as “Winter Fences.” The gray-white snow in a field, the monochromatic zone representing bare brown tree trunks in the distance and the gray-toned sky above make for a scene that merits quiet consideration on the viewer’s part.
Winter was not Leake’s only season. In another oil painting, “August Trees,” there are various shades of green deployed for a forest so thick that only a few patches of blue sky peek out near the top of the composition.
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If Leake qualifies as a spare realist, William Irvine has an even more reductive approach to depicting the landscape. Its components become forms that are simple both in shape and coloration. “Autumn Field (White Horse in Field)” and “Window to the Moon (White Horse with Moon)” are so pared down that they have a folkloric simplicity.
Among the other artists in the exhibit are A.E. Ted Aub, Roger L. Majorowicz, Christopher Parks and Marcus Uzilevsky. They create works in various mediums and are all worth a look.
Some of the most intriguing works in the show are by now-unknown artists, however, who made sculptures and prints that in some cases would not be out of place in a folk art museum.
Two large fish carved out of wood, a carved wood Maryland terrapin, a cast lead “Pig Fountain,” a carved wood ram and a mixed-media signboard depicting “Glasses with Eyes” are a humorous indication that Columbia was meant to be a truly inclusive community.
“Selections from the Rouse Company/the Howard Hughes Corporation Art Collection” remains through Oct. 13 in Gallery I at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City. Running concurrently in Gallery II is “Parsing,” an exhibit by artists from the Eyesplice Collective. Call 410-313-2787 or go to www.hocoarts.org