If you didn't know that February is black history month, you would get a clue from the number of art shows dealing with the black experience currently on view.
From the top floor of the Baltimore International Culinary College to the basement of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, Baltimore is abloom. But all is not equal here -- a sampling of four of these shows revealed widely differing degrees of success.
Angela Franklin, a Baltimore artist, had a good idea for "Abstract in Black" at School 33. It was to be a show of African-American artists who work in non-representative ways, because, says Franklin, "no longer can the responsibility of creating solely representational images which chronicle the 'black experience' be placed upon the backs of African-American artists." In other words, one must create as one's vision dictates, not to satisfy a formula or obligation imposed from outside.
She has gathered a diverse group of works by five artists. The paintings of New York artist Frank Bowling, with their smooth surfaces made up of quietly rhythmic strokes, have the appearance of serenity but also imply emotion below the surface. They are the most satisfying works in the show. The other artists are Sylvia Snowden of Washington, Frank Smith of Baltimore, Kevin Cole of Atlanta and Clayton Evans of New York. This is an uneven show, but definitely worth doing.
Unfortunately, one can't say the same of "Visions and Voices: Sisters from the Sun," a show of works by African-American women artists at the culinary college. It, too, sounds like a good idea, but it was not well-selected and has been poorly installed in the college's sprawling fifth floor space. Mimi Douglas' appealing fabric pieces at the entrance lead you to expect more than the rest of the show delivers.
"Black Artists of Baltimore" is a small, pleasant show at the fine arts gallery of Baltimore City Community College. It includes the realistic paintings of James Allen Myrick, Harry Evans' familiar Baltimore streetscapes, and Elizabeth H. Wold's colorful and at times exotic paintings.
Linda Day graduated from the Maryland Institute last year with a degree in photography and won the college's photography traveling fellowship. Together with her husband, well-known photographer Carl Clark, she traveled to Nigeria. Some of the results can be seen in "Images of Nigeria: The First Printing" in the small Woodward gallery in the basement of the institute's main building.
Both Clark and Day concentrate on people, and they're good at communicating universals through these color and black and white photographs, whether it's the infectious smiles of children or the anguish in an elderly woman's face. The standout image in this show, however, is Day's "Iesha," a color image of a girl standing by a wall -- simple and stunningly beautiful. We can look forward to Day's future work with great expectations.
Other shows in the area include: "Out of Africa," paintings and sculpture of four contemporary African artists from Malawi and Zimbabwe, at Dundalk Community College, 7200 Sollers Point Road, (410) 285-9876; "Pieces of Ebony," photographs by Milbert Orlando Brown of African-Americans over two decades, at Morgan State University, Cold Spring Lane and Hillen Road, (410) 319-3030; and, "Reaping the Roots," mixed media paintings and installations by Nichole Gray, at Anne Arundel Community College, 101 College Parkway, Arnold, (410) 541-2510.
What: "Abstract in Black"
Where: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St.
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through March 3
$ Call: (410) 396-4641
What: "Visions and Voices: Sisters from the Sun"
Where: Baltimore International Culinary College Gallery, 17 Commerce St.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays; through Feb. 24
Call: (410) 752-4710
What: "Black Artists of Baltimore"
Where: Baltimore City Community College, 2901 Liberty Heights Ave.
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; through March 3
$ Call: (410) 333-5449
What: "Images from Nigeria"
Where: Woodward Gallery, Maryland Institute, College of Art Main Building, 1300 Mount Royal Ave.
When: Weekdays 9 a.m.-midnight, Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; through Feb. 18
$ Call: (410) 225-2300
Fine ideas, uneven ends
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
If you're looking for information about black history and the personalities and events that helped shape it, you might find what you're looking for in one of the stories now available from the Sun On Demand information service of The Baltimore Sun.
Each story, which has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, is $2.95 (plus tax) or all 15 for $19.95 (plus tax). Order by calling Sun on Demand at (410) 332-6800 and asking for the article by its four-digit code.
Benjamin Banneker, 6726
A Black Congregation, 6729
Black History Tour, 6724
A Black Legend, 6748
Books on Black Baseball, 6746
The Ebenezer AME Church, 6733
Great Blacks in Wax Museum, 6744
The History of a Lynching, 6731
Rev. John Wesley Holland, 6725
Negro League, 6747
Negro Mountain, 6723
Wilma Rudolph, 6732
Sankofa Dance Theatre, 6722
Slave Letters, 6730
Words to Live By, 6728