For nine years, Maryland Art Place has had a critics' residency program, bringing in two critics to work with selected local artists and writers. They conduct writer workshops, make studio visits and select a MAP exhibit of the artists' works, called "Critics' Picks."
This year's critics were Brian Wallis, contributing editor to Art in America, and Liz Kotz, teacher and free-lance critic. Their collection of picks need not have been coherent -- there was no reason for them to have similar aims in choosing artists -- but it is. They chose works loosely connected in that they address issues of personal and interpersonal relationships: gender, sexuality, the self, the family.
In general, Kotz's artists tend to be more introspective and psychological in approach, while Wallis' are more interpersonal and issue-oriented, which makes for a nice balance.
Several of Kotz's artists deal with the search for self-image. Julia Simon's "Surfacing #1" and "Surfacing #4" are photographs that show a face (presumably the artist's) gradually appearing. In "#1" there is only an eye swimming at us out of a white void. In "#4" the face can be seen clearly, but only two-thirds of it are within the frame of the photo, and between it and us is a chain link fence. The ability to "see clearly" may prove only the ability to perceive the barriers to self-knowledge.
Christopher Myers' photographs of clothing lying on the ground suggest searches for self abandoned in futility. Peter Walsh's video "Diary" suggests that what we infer about others' perceptions of us shapes our perceptions of ourselves.
Wallis' artists explore more interpersonal issues. Mary Deacon Opasik's sculptures made of found materials -- "Born Anew," "Searcher" and "Birthmother" -- address the issue of adoptive vs. birth parents. "Birthmother" is particularly effective. Its mirror in the midsection of the figure makes the viewer who approaches it part of the work, reminding us that
birth and the issues surrounding it are perhaps the only thing we all have in common -- nobody hasn't been born.
Gail Rebhan's "A tree, a house, a car" combines words and simple images to address the issue of gender attitudes in children and how it affects their parents. Gordon Fluke's polemical "Cultivating a Killer Virus" asserts that the Roman Catholic church's opposition to the use of condoms in the age of AIDS is as destructive as the actions of medieval popes in sending crusaders off to be killed.
This is not at first a prepossessing-looking show. These works, by and large, are not meant to be experienced for the sake of visual reward, but for the sake of communication of ideas. And there are plenty of ideas, so the show stays with you.
Where: Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through March 18
Call: (410) 965-8565