In the world of Teresita Fernandez's art, walls melt, the indoors becomes the outdoors and the outdoors the indoors. In the world of Quisqueya Henriquez's art, air appears solid and impenetrable, and words may not look like what they mean.
Fernandez and Henriquez are the artists of "X Site 97," the Contemporary Museum's latest exhibit and one of its very best. Baltimore's museum without walls, which brings contemporary art to temporary spaces, this time chose a raw, unfinished space at street level in the Alex. Brown building downtown. There, amid pipes and ducts and bare cement-block walls and concrete floors, the two artists, working separately, have created an exhibit of playfully intellectual art that one can enter easily and explore as deeply as one wishes.
Although both artists are of Latin American extraction, this is not socio-political art, nor is it autobiographical or identity-based. And although exhibit curator Lisa Corrin links this art to the minimalism of the 1960s, it is not necessary to be familiar with minimalist art or theory to enjoy this work. "It offers accessible experience open to everybody," says Corrin.
And it does.
Fernandez's installation "Landscape (Projected)" is a room all painted a soft but acid-looking yellowish green; walls, ceiling and floor appear to melt fuzzily into one another so that the person entering this space doesn't quite know where one ends and another begins. The light comes from a single round source in the center of the ceiling, and a pipe zigzags back and forth down the length of the floor like a right-angled snake. The sound of a sprinkler blip-blip-blips in the background. Nothing actually looks like a landscape -- there are no painted trees or lawns -- but there is much to remind one of a garden, so the viewer willingly enters the illusion of being at once inside and outside. "It's flip-flopping the exterior and the interior," Fernandez says. "An interior landscape, an outdoor room."
Between the hands
One of Henriquez's untitled works consists of 128 photographs of hands. Half of these 8-inch-square images are attached to the ceiling to form a grid-like square. The other half are attached to the floor directly beneath. Although there's nothing but air in between, the two grids above and below establish so strong a visual relationship with one another that the viewer can easily imagine a solid, impenetrable column between them. The hands overhead appear to give a blessing, while those below are joined cuplike to receive something, which adds to the sense of a presence in the space between.
In the case of each of these works, the artist has set up a situation in which the viewer is led to create in his mind an illusion. The intellectual games these artists create thus require the viewer's participation in order to become complete. Sometimes the games involve imaginative wordplay, and sometimes the movement of the viewer's body in relation to the work plays a part.
According to Corrin, the artists' use of grid-like repetition and of simple industrial materials relates them to the minimalists of the 1960s. "But with a difference," Corrin says. "Then, it was regularity -- airtight, geometrical sculpture. These younger artists embrace and expand upon the grid, reinserting content matter." She adds, "This is taking minimalist art and playing and having fun with it." It's quite sophisticated play, but enjoyable nevertheless.
Henriquez's works can involve the play of opposites. "Don't" consists of four, bright red, target-like discs of wax-coated fiberglass hanging on a wall, one containing each letter of the word DON'T. "Don't" is a hard, inflexible command, but wax, if melted, becomes soft and runny. "Don't" sounds cold and forbidding, but red, although it's the color of a stop sign, is hot, inviting and seductive.
Another work is a series of photographs of grids Henriquez made out of seaweed on various beaches. The grids look like chains, but unlike chains, these are soft, organic and will rot away or be destroyed by the incoming tide. The artist's "Stereography of the Memory" consists of a series of concentric cell-shapes made of paper that radiate out from a single cell in the center, like a round honeycomb. It's a visualization of memory, says Henriquez. "The center is the instant, and separated from the center are the aspects of memory, which can go on to infinity."
Fernandez's installations often involve the viewer's body, sometimes in motion. One room has a series of windows the viewer must pass by in order to enter. Because the inside of the room is brighter than the outside, from outside one sees through the windows. Inside, the viewer sees only a reflection, no view through. First the viewer is a voyeur, looking at others unseen, then a narcissist looking at himself and not knowing if he is being looked at.
Elsewhere, Fernandez puts a mirror on the floor under a scrim so that it doesn't seem to be a mirror. When one peers in, it looks as if what's being reflected, both inside the building and outside the nearby windows, is actually in a real space below floor level. "It absorbs rather than reflects," says Fernandez of the mirror.
As the mirror pulls in the outside world, the exhibit's street-level space, windowed on two of its four sides, invites passers-by to look in and to come in. And for the first time, the Contemporary has located one of its exhibit on a busy corner in the heart of downtown where there will be many passers-by. "A high-profile site like this offers an opportunity to get a lot more people into the museum than we've ever had," says Contemporary Museum director Gary Sangster.
The Contemporary interacts with the community, in another way as well, by collaborating with other local museums as it has done in the past. There's a "phantom" exhibit involving 12 works in the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection and one in the Walters Art Gallery's collection. On text panels near the works, which range from a Renaissance painting to works by contemporary artists, Fernandez and Henriquez comment on how each is related to their own work.
It's the artists' -- and Corrin's -- way of showing continuity: that the art of any age doesn't exist in a vacuum but puts the past to new uses.
'X Site 97'
Where: Contemporary Museum, Alex. Brown Building, Baltimore and South streets
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (to 8 p.m. Thursdays), through Jan. 5
Admission: $3; $2 seniors and students; free to children under 12 accompanied by an adult
Call: 410-347-4060 for exhibit site or 410-333-8600
Pub Date: 10/28/97