The Richard Serra prints on view at Grimaldis, although they look much like his drawings currently at the Baltimore Museum of Art, have a completely different effect.
The drawings come across as enormous physical presences rather than as images that can be "read" for meaning. The prints, on the other hand, have lots of content.
That may be because they have a background. They are descended from a sculpture project in which Serra placed 18 upright basalt stones, three and four meters tall, on Videy Island near Reykjavik, Iceland. These were subsequently photographed, and the pictures of those stones standing like sentinels speak of a haunting loneliness.
The prints come from notebook drawings of the Videy Island project, and the catalog that accompanies them, available for perusing at Grimaldis, contains photos of the sculpture project. The photos inevitably inhabit one's memory when looking at the prints, so one comes to them primed to find content.
But it's not only that, I think. Like the museum drawings, the prints are black on off-white paper. But unlike the museum drawings (more or less regular and impersonal rectangles), these prints have irregular shapes and interact with their white backgrounds in more varied ways. They bend and lean, and appear to be growing or shrinking, falling over or sliding down the page. They encourage ruminations on aspects of the life cycle, from hope and aspiration to decay and resignation.
The largest of them, "Esna," separates in the middle at the top, to produce a crevice of white between two black entities. It's as if a carefully maintained facade is beginning to show its falseness, or a great monolithic entity -- an empire, say -- has begun to fall apart. If those prone to noting historical references see the paintings of Mark Rothko in Serra's rectangular drawings, this crevice will inevitably recall Clyfford Still.
Grimaldis in effect has two shows this month. In addition to the Serras, there's an exhibit of small-scale works by the gallery's regular artists. Those accustomed to seeing these artists in larger scale will note that Grace Hartigan can command a room with works of any scale she chooses, as she certainly does with her three watercolors here. John Van Alstine's two sculptures have a surprising delicacy, even though the materials, granite and steel, are the same as those of his larger works.
Timothy App's geometric abstraction "Untitled III" draws one in with subtly varied surfaces and rich tones that work especially well on this intimate scale. Wade Saunders' "Still Life," a bouquet painted bronze flowers, delights with each bloom's differently configured stem. And Ellen Phelan's two images based on dolls pull you in two directions at once: There's something definitely sexual and sinister going on between the figures in these pictures, but at the same time they're very beautiful.
What: Richard Serra Prints; Small Scale Works
Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.
When: Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sundays 1 to 5 p.m., through Dec. 31
Call: (410) 539-1080