This month's group show at Gallery International is the first exhibition to include works by Baltimore-area artists since the gallery opened its doors nearly two years ago.
In addition to an international roster of artists that includes Uruguayans Cecilia Miquez and Arturo Mallman, Spain's Marc Quintana and Luis Perez Espinosa and Russians Isaak Feldman and Mikhail Gubin, the current show presents local artists Jim Paulsen, Leigh Maddox, Tom Supensky, Laura Amussen and Jean S. Rah.
The show also features a fabulous piece by the late New York-based artist Jimmy DeSana, whose innovative use of color photography to engage issues of gay identity in the late 1970s and 1980s made him an influential voice on the New York art scene during a crucial period of change.
In his work, Aluminum Foil, two figures draped in sheets of foil wrapping that resemble the flowing garments worn by the Biblical characters in Old Masters paintings stand on a beach under a sky tinged with a red-orange sunset. Their oddly familiar garments seem to both protect and isolate them from nature's beauty and power.
A number of the artists in the current show have exhibited previously at the gallery. Mallman's luminous mixed-media paintings, populated by ghostly human figures who seem to dissolve into pure color and light, have the ethereal quality of dreams or visions.
Miquez's surrealist-inspired sculptures, meanwhile, recall the magical realism of Latin American writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And artist TKL Kizimecca's brutally graphic meditations on the theme of surgical sexual trans gendering are about as harrowing as anything one is likely to see this side of Goya's famous Disasters of War.
On a more serene note, British photographer Pete Davis weighs in with four large color landscapes mounted on aluminum-sandwich panels that are a sort of contemporary update to the picturesque tradition of William Constable. And Chris Scarborough's paintings of mermaids and other mythical ocean denizens bring a note of cheerful, pop-art inflected whimsy to the show.
Among local artists, sculptor Jim Paulsen typically creates large commissioned works of public sculpture for clients around the world. But here he is represented by a scaled-down maquette of one of his signature abstract pieces and by a sculpture-and-oil-on-canvas collage that recalls Rauschenberg's revolutionary "combine" paintings.
Jean S. Rah's beautifully crafted free-form sculptures are carved on 2-inch squares of polished wood, then arranged in grids and inset into decorative frames whose subtle markings and muted colors complement the rhythmic undulations of the wood.
Susan Hamburger's Collectible Series, a delightful group of small paintings of vases, porcelains, statuary and other objets d'art, recall the preciousness and close observation of Dutch still-life painting with a distinctly contemporary twist.
Also noteworthy are the bamboo sculptures of Laura Amussen and Tom Supensky's adorable ceramic sculptures depicting such ugly-duckling creatures as a shiny green bullfrog and a long-nosed shrew, which surely has never before been treated so sympathetically in art.
This is a low-key yet engaging show that's as intellectually refreshing as it is easy on the eye.
The gallery is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Call 410-230-0561.