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MICA exhibit offers artistic tale of two cities

As an exhibition, the Baltimore/Chicago Show on view in the Station Building at the Maryland Institute College of Art, is as interesting for what it reveals about the interests of its curator, Kerry James Marshall, as it is for its works.

The Chicago-based Marshall, whose painting, sculpture, photography and video are currently the subject of a major exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, was asked to curate the Baltimore/Chicago Show by the organizers of Artscape, the citys annual outdoor festival of the arts.

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Marshall responded by selecting six regional artists and pairing them with six artists from the Chicago area. He said what he was looking for was something that seemed fresh, challenging and that I thought had presence, but he might also have added that all the artists in whom he found those qualities are grappling with issues of individual or communal identity.

The result is somewhat of a mixed bag of pieces that, while sharing a strong commitment to conceptual art practices, don't always hang together visually.

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Some of the individual pieces are magnificent, however. Baltimore artist Rene Trevinos Corazones Sagradas, for example, is a beautifully crafted installation made up of dozens of painted, sewn and embroidered objects resembling heart-shaped candy boxes.

The title of the piece, which translates roughly as Sacred Hearts, refers to the multiplicity of associations between the bodys vital organ and the human souls need for love.

Trevinos objects are perhaps intended to represent only the merest tokens of this overwhelming passion. His candy boxes are decorated with ribbons and gaily colored wrapping papers as if they were store-bought Valentine's Day gifts.

Yet the sheer quantity is telling: It is as if the artist were saying that you can never get too much love, and the love you get is always more than words can express.

Frank Smith, another Baltimore artist, who for many years taught in the art department at Howard University, is represented by a number of mixed-media works, including irregularly shaped fabric pieces that are appliqued, embroidered and quilted as well as painted.

Smith is a former member of the Chicago-based African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AFRICOBRA), a group of African-American artists who during the 1970s tried to formulate a black aesthetic that drew its inspiration from the cultural and historical experience of African-Americans.

Smiths fabric and painted pieces recall African textiles and the syncopated rhythms of jazz. Some of them are draped on the wall rather than hung in frames, and all of them convey a sense of spontaneous, improvisatory composition that springs from the same impulse as African-American musical creation.

Among the Chicago artists, I was particularly struck by Jaime Mendozas installation about illegal immigration. Mendoza, who is of Mexican descent, has appropriated a pair of U.S. government surveillance photographs taken along the border in California.

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The images, which show the area along the border bisected by rows of metal fencing, have a chilling impersonality that suggests both the desperation of those seeking to enter this country illegally and the lack of compassion with which they are greeted by the authorities.

I also was impressed by Zoe Charlton's rather saucy mixed-media allegories of racial and gender politics and Grant Andersons sensitive graphite and encaustic portrait busts of African-American men.

There were also interesting works by Carl Pope, Rael Jero Salley, Karen Reimer, Dan S. Wang, Matthew McConville, Symmes Gardner and Mequitta Ahuja.

The show runs through July 31 in the Decker Gallery of the Maryland Institute College of Art, 3100 Mount Royal Ave. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Call 410-225-2300 or visit the Web site www.mica.edu.


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