Go down to School 33 -- that's an order, not a suggestion -- and see one of the most beautiful and important exhibits of the year. It's by two artists who take scraps of wood and lumps of concrete and fashion them into forms that sing to one another across the gallery spaces.
"Houston/Baltimore: A Collaboration between James von Minor and Joe Mancuso" brings together 50 works by Baltimore's von Minor and Houston's Mancuso, who have known one another since they in college in Colorado more than 20 years ago. Though they have lived half a continent apart for most of that time, they have continued to work in similar ways with similar materials and to produce, independently, works that have much in common.
In this exhibit, they show both independent and collaborative works. If one had to find a difference between the two sensibilities, it might be that Mancuso's is slighty more emotional and von Minor's slightly more cerebral. But they're so close that the whole show looks pretty much as if it were produced by the same consciousness.
Beauty's a strange word to apply to a group of little fish-shaped wedges of wood, cast-offs of the manufacturing process. But for "Pool," Mancuso organized them in a circle on the floor, and they look as if they're swimming gracefully to some unheard music. They also remind you of the goldfish in paintings by Matisse, whose work has influenced both of these artists. For "Shingle Ring," Mancuso made a wheel of shingles, 45 inches in diameter and 16 inches wide, that sits on the floor with welcoming dignity, its tactile brown surfaces exuding comfortable warmth. It's a larger version of von Minor's "Shim Ring," a somewhat more reserved wall piece made of long, narrow wedges of wood.
For the collaborative "Ring and Segments," Mancuso made the wooden ring whose triangular slits echo, in attenuated form, von Minor's triangular wedges of concrete that fill the ring's central hole like hand in glove. It joins 28 other small works that populate one of the gallery's walls and complement one another like variations on a theme.
Repetition is a device both these artists use to advantage. For "Dixie Ring," Mancuso placed small cup-shaped concrete forms (actually molded from everyday paper cups) in a circle. Von Minor took somewhat larger cup-shaped concrete forms and arranged them in a circle like Mancuso's, and put them on a box that was lying around in his studio to create "Cup Ring on a Box." It's as if he's made a monument to the humble cup form.
For "Six Targets," reminiscent of Jasper Johns' early target paintings, Mancuso arranged six target forms made of concrete side by side on a wall. There are three colors of concrete, white, black and gray, and each target combines two of the colors. Together they teach a lesson about juxtaposition and perception -- the white next to the black looks hard and stark, but soft and creamy next to the gray, though it's the same white. Here as in much of their other work, repetition of form has a musical implication, like a motif that's being repeated but slightly differently each time.
These artists can be witty, too. In "Sprinkler Ring and Replica," they have placed on a pedestal two doughnut-shaped concrete forms. One is a manufactured sprinkler ring that you can buy easily in Houston, brought here by Mancuso. But they're not available in Baltimore, so von Minor created the replica by hand. The joke here is that the copy is the handmade, unique work of art, while the original is the machine-made utilitarian product.
Over and over, the artists create works of beauty out of the repetitive use of everyday materials that we see around us. And they have placed them with a sure sense of proportion and composition, to create an installation that's a work of art itself, as pleasing as the individual pieces.
In a larger sense, there's something being said here about the possibility of beauty and significance in the repetitions of everyday life. You don't often see a show that's as uniformly satisfying as this one.
What: "Houston/Baltimore: A Collaboration between James von Minor and Joe Mancuso"
Where: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St.
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Jan. 10
Call: (410) 396-4641
Pub Date: 12/17/96