The Maryland Federation of Art's "Contemporary Art o Canvas" show comes as something of a surprise. It's full of recently completed art by artists working now, but it looks like it comes from a different age.
The federation runs the Gallery on the Circle in Annapolis, but the work it shows is not restricted to that of local artists. It sponsors a number of shows that are open to national submissions; the current one includes works by artists as far-flung as Hawaii, California and New York, though most of the show comes from Maryland. The juror was William Christenberry, artist and professor of art at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington.
Since the show was limited to works on canvas, what we have are paintings. But that's not what makes this exhibit look old-fashioned. You will have trouble finding art that deals with currently popular sociopolitical issues here, unless it's Duane Lutsko's paintings of highway construction. But there certainly doesn't appear to be anything judgmental about "Route 50 East," his skillfully rendered painting that's among the most satisfying in the show. It's not about the environment, it's about color and light and composition and space.
The real surprise of the show is that so many of its works are abstract, and gesturally abstract at that, so that the viewer at times has the feeling of being back in the 1950s -- not only before issue art, but before minimalism and pop as well.
Such a show could be a refreshing change, but this one didn't work out that way. Too much of the work here is ho-hum -- surely the dedicated product of sincere artists, and undeniably technically competent, but not of unusual interest.
There are, however, exceptions, among which are Lutsko's two canvases. Another is the most atypical work in the show, Ann Chernow's "21-Reverie." It consists of three rows of seven small paintings each of women -- head-and-shoulders shots in oil, so to speak. Beneath the paintings are labels identifying these women as Hollywood starlet types of about 1920s vintage.
On one level this is a parody of Hollywood bios, such as that of Grace X. Bennett "who starred as Martha Washington in 'George Did It' " and who collects antique samovars. On another level it's a statement about the entertainment industry's attitudes toward women and how they shape the country's attitudes, and so it's that rare thing for this show, issue-oriented art.
Among the abstract paintings, Marlene Vine's "Tribal Lesson" is little more than a checkerboard arrangement of rectangles that look like metal plates that have been scratched and rubbed, but it has an authority and an anguish that make it memorable. Louis M. Kaplan's "Tor II Gate, Itsukushima" is notable for its color, its gestural energy and its surface organization, all of which endow it with considerable tension.
Also among the more interesting artists here are Carol Miller Frost, Maggie Venn and Breon Gilleran. The exhibit is in two locations, as noted in the accompanying box.
What: MFA art show
Where: Gallery on the Circle, 18 State Circle, and Cardinal Gallery, 801 Chase St., both in Annapolis
When: At the Circle 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; at Cardinal Gallery 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Through June 5
Call: (410) 268-4566