A visit to Grimaldis' summer group show brings back the past with such a rush that it's almost like an exercise in escape. Not that we're talking nostalgia here; these artists are not that kind. But their works do recall other eras.
Grace Hartigan, who often mines art history, gives us "Ask Me No More," a painting that features a hefty couple who might be a Venus and Adonis borrowed from Rubens. They face John Van Alstine's sculpture "Implement XXV (River Arc)," whose components include half of a stone mill wheel and a curving bronze element inspired by a scythe handle. This is not only an evocation of the rural past, but in its juxtaposition with the Hartigan it also reads somewhat like the torso and leg of a figure from baroque art.
Mel Kendrick's two small sculptures, "4 Point, Black Oil" and "Small 3 Point, Black Oil," with their billowy curves and jangly angles, could be reworkings of Marcel Duchamp's early 20th-century painting "Nude Descending a Staircase." As such, they're right at home with Al Held's watercolor "Tesoro XII," whose abstract architectonics recall other early 20th-century phenomena: Russian constructivism, the German Bauhaus, Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings.
With Bernd and Hilla Becker's "Coalbunker, Essen Ruhrdistrict, Germany," we're in the 19th century. As the eye proceeds back in space from a light-filled exterior through a dark interior and toward another light-filled exterior in the distance, one recalls similar progressions in Whistler's "Thames Set" of etchings of about 1860. As Whistler's scenes revealed evidence of a burgeoning industrial age, the Beckers' photographs record the same industrial age's decline.
The landscapes of Henry Coe, Eugene Leake and Sukey Bryan are modern, vital exponents of a long tradition of landscape painting, which at present seems driven at least as much by a desire to recall the values of the past as by any inclination to record those of the present.
In "Clouds," Trace Miller, searching for deeper meaning underneath the surface of contemporary life, finds the human figure and the flower -- surely among the oldest subjects of art. Even Wade Saunders, John Pearson, Osami Tanaka and Nan Montgomery, in their more or less geometric abstractions, seek an increasingly elusive order.
And what are all these artists fleeing? As if to give the answer, we have the one work in the show that deals openly with contemporary issues: Darrell Wilcox's painting, "Farrah/Klan and the Simpson Syndrome." Louis Farrakhan and a robed KKK figure are shepherds of hatred, black and white, whose followers -- flocks of sheep driven to a murderous frenzy by the rantings of their leaders -- attack each other. In the background burns a city of green towers -- Camelot, the Emerald City -- symbolizing the idea of civilization going up in flames.
So it's no wonder our artists seek hope and order in the past; there's no point looking in the present.
LOOKING TO THE PAST
What: "Summer '95"
Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.
When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Aug. 12
Call: (410) 539-1080