Today's newspaper headlines may inspire an artist to make something you'll see in a gallery tomorrow. Not that artists are blatantly literal-minded about it, but sometimes they do look to newspaper headlines, photographs, headlines or typography as the basis for their art.
There is an exhibit at the School 33 Art Center, "News As Muse," that brings together newspaper imagery-derived contemporary art done by an interesting mix of local and nationally known artists. Curator Mark Barry has obviously done a lot of curatorial legwork in preparing this show, which makes its inconsistency a bit troubling. But even so, this exhibit will definitely appeal to more than journalists.
Among the strongest pieces is Leon Golub's "Riot I," which hangs on the wall like an unfurled political banner as much as a painting. The artist had seen a 1976 newspaper photograph of a massacre in Thailand in which a crowd approvingly watches as a man urinates on a body on the ground. Struck by this graphic documentary image, Golub in characteristic fashion reduced the human grouping to a few boldly rendered, almost posterlike figures, and likewise took a particular incident as reported in the newspapers and abstracted it into a more generalized comment on fascistic behavior.
The other artists in the show are usually quite effective in their news-based artwork. And no two artists read the newspaper in the same way, if you will. Baltimorean Joyce Scott, for instance, is very much into her own thing with a beadwork piece called "Hunger" into which she has incorporated photographs of starving people. Her craftiness and her social conscience are as tightly bound together as that beadwork.
But the exhibit is inconsistent, with famous artists such as Red Grooms seen at less than their best.
Similarly, one of the disappointments in this context are the three charcoal and chalk drawings by Mike Glier. The joint show this New York artist and his wife Jenny Holzer once shared in this very gallery was local proof of how powerful Glier's social commentary can be. So it's puzzling that his exhibited figurative studies of arms are based not on mass media images, but on acquaintances he knows who were sick or dying. Moreover, these studies were drawn from a live model. One wonders why they were included in this show.
Also represented in the "News As Muse" exhibit are Sue Coe, Richard Saholt, Luis Flores, Kay Rosen, David Loeffler Smith and Pat Ward Williams.
Upstairs at School 33 is an installation by Christine Langr titled "Our Lady of the Mills," which grimly combines industrial artifacts in a churchlike setting. The haunting touches include photographic images of derelict factories, actual coal company ledgers from the 1940s, and a roughly constructed confessional in which the interior metal grate through which a sinner would address a priest is the artist's stern statement on the blue-collar Catholicism of her youth. With blunt effectiveness, Langr equates rusted out industry with the Catholicism she presumably has abandoned.
Also upstairs at School 33 is a sculpture exhibit by David Gleeson. His modestly scaled wooden sculptures rely on nearly uniform groupings in which our eyes follow the variations in height, placement, coloration and curvature in the grouped vertical posts. And the posts are also physically brought together by gently undulating horizontal cross pieces that reinforce the aesthetic linkages that would be there anyway.
The group exhibit "News As Muse," Christine Langr's installation "Our Lady of the Mills" and David Gleeson's sculpture exhibit remain at the School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St., through March 22. For more information, call 396-4641.