There is one fine work in Maryland Art Place's muddled show "Water Temples," so let's talk about that one first.
Jan Pierce Stinchcomb's "Solid Waste: Work in Progress" reflects the efforts of herself and others in her Harford County community to prevent the establishment or expansion of landfills that threaten to endanger the local water supply.
The work consists partly of maps and photographs on the walls, but most dramatically of a spiral of platforms bearing water vessels (glasses, goblets) that have been pasted with copies of documents used in the battle against established bureaucracy. These platforms begin at the floor and spiral inward and upward to reach a height of nine feet. The viewer can follow this spiral inward until completely surrounded by these document/vessels -- just as those who fight "city hall" must feel overcome by the confusion, complexity and frustration of it all.
This is a work of commitment that reflects a work of commitment. It's frightening in its documentation and beautiful in its implications of refusal to surrender. And it is truly a water temple, for it's a temple to the efforts of those who are trying to preserve the quality of their community's water.
If only everything else (or anything else) were up to the level of Stinchcomb's work, this show might be more than a testament to the misguided notions of its curators, Kim Manfredi and Will Walter.
"In this exhibition," says MAP's announcement of the show (no doubt on the basis of the curators' statements), "artists will explore, through literal or symbolic imagery, our recurring urge to create water temples, sacred places where one can gaze into the cosmos and see reflected not only our self, but the universe as well."
Poppycock. Most of these works engage water or some kind of liquid, but by and large they have nothing of consequence to communicate. Jeff D. Goldman's "Untitled" series of photographs of water in different places and at different seasons is pleasant enough. Jo Israelson contributes four strong charcoal drawings that would be appropriate in another context, but for the most part they are quite tangential to the subject of water.
Mark A. Miller's "Water Snake," a series of snake-like forms spray-painted on bed sheets, occupies more wall space than it deserves. Even Gagik Aroutiunian, a sculptor of some consequence, has struggled with the water theme, only to be defeated. As for the works of the two curators, it's always a mistake to put your work in a show you curate -- let somebody else blow your horn. In this case, it was a mistake in spades. Unless, of course, the intent was to make everything else look brilliant by comparison.
The art world must be large enough to have a place for failure, and MAP has certainly provided ample room for failure here. Jan Pierce Stinchcomb, you deserve better company than this!
What: "Water Temples"
Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Aug. 20
Call: (410) 962-8565