Maryland Art Place's "Queering Family Values: An Exhibition of Gay and Lesbian Pride" sounds like a good idea. It turns out to have been a better idea than a reality.
With the issue of homosexuals in the military now a matter of national debate, and in the aftermath of the gay and lesbian march on Washington, homosexuals are more than ever in the public consciousness. Yet the whole subject is one which still engenders a great deal of misunderstanding, fear and hatred, as the statements quoted in Gordon Fluke's work "Prayer Fans" amply demonstrate. Among them:
"There's a lot of talk these days about homosexuals coming out of the closet. I didn't know they'd been in the closet. I do know they've always been in the gutter" -- Jerry Falwell.
"Not only is the homosexual worthy of death, but also those who approve of homosexuality" -- Jimmy Swaggart.
MAP's statement regarding "Queering Family Values" promises a show "dealing with family values, community, relationships and issues surrounding non-traditional families and family matters." It sounds useful, instructive and encouraging.
But it isn't, for the most part. Far too many of its works are predictable, drearily familiar and totally unmoving. True, one cannot help but be moved by the postcard that says "My lover is dead, his family didn't and don't care -- mine neither." But this is one of a series of postcards sent to Fluke that are arranged in three rows as "Reagan Era Postcards" -- a work of art that's minimally visual and not an original idea.
The show contents itself with teaching what we already know -- that too little is being done about AIDS, that there are bigots out there, that homosexuals make love to people of the same sex. It wouldn't matter that the material is well-rehearsed if only it were addressed in fresh and telling ways.
In some ways, the show appears counterproductive to understanding and acceptance. Robert Marshall's paintings and drawings suggest that homosexuality stems from a lonely, unhappy childhood, which will doubtless only reinforce the opinion of those who regard homosexuality as abnormal and unhealthy. And it is possible to infer from too many works here that homosexuals are totally defined by sexual orientation. It would be nice to have more works like Robert Giard's photographs, which suggest some of the variety of homosexuals' lives.
What's basically wrong with this show is by no means unique to this show; on the contrary, it's what's wrong with so much issue-oriented art -- it's just not very good. If evidence of that were needed, it was certainly provided by this year's Whitney Biennial, devoted exclusively to issue-oriented works and wrecked by bad art.
"Queering" is on the second floor at MAP. Downstairs is a two-person show of the work of Nicholas Corrin and Michael B. Platt. Corrin's brooding paintings of the figure in an indeterminate space inevitably evoke thoughts of the essential alienation of the human condition.
Platt's life-sized collaged figures have bodies that were made from actual Washington, Police Department shooting targets, but their faces are the face of Malcolm X. These have a lot of presence, and they do make the point that African-Americans have been historically, and still are, the victims of a great deal of violence in America.
What: Two shows: "Queering Family Values" and the art of Nicholas Corrin and Michael B. Platt
Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through July 3
Call: (410) 962-8565.