In art as in life, there's always something to be said for the unexpected and the unpredictable. Similarly, at the annual s'LOTTERY exhibition sponsored by Maryland Art Place, where the art is selected by chance through the drawing of lots, the show's organizers never know what they'll get.
A call was sent out for artists of all levels of skill and experience to submit whatever works they felt best represented their accomplishments. From the scores of responses that came in, 15 were selected by lottery (hence the show's title).
Without benefit of juries or curators to judge the quality, the results are about as close to pure democracy as anyone could wish. As a description of the abilities of those who made the final cut, the euphemistic adjective "uneven" would be a gross understatement.
What's on view here is rather the full range of artistic possibilities, from the sublime to the ridiculous. The exhibition is very much like the little girl with the curl down the middle of her forehead: When the artists in this show are good, they are very, very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid.
Consistency isn't the point of s'LOTTERY, however. Think of it instead as an opportunity to take the pulse of the region's art-making activities, an unscientific but illuminating random sample of what people are up to.
By this criterion, what's astounding is the sheer quantity of reasonably presentable stuff that's actually being produced locally. I doubt whether any other city Baltimore's size would be capable of putting on a show as interesting as this one, notwithstanding the wide variation in technique and vision.
One of the show's standouts, painter Zachary Thornton, has produced a series of highly accomplished oil-on-canvas portraits that effectively convey something of their subjects' character as well as appearance.
The sleek surfaces of these portraits certainly demonstrate the artist's mastery of light, color and form, but what really makes them work is their startlingly life-like quality: You almost expect to see these people breathe.
I was intrigued by Chrystal Healy's anxiety-ridden black-and-white photographs of fugitive female figures, Donna Hep- ner's surreal graphite drawings -- one believes her when she says her process is akin to automatic writing -- and Zahi Khamis' cryptic acrylic-on-paper paintings that seem to combine Western modernism with Islamic calligraphy and design.
The show includes works by Rachel Bone, Leah Cooper, Debra Diamond, Susan Alder George, Iva Gillet, Michelle Hagewood, Jeanine Hall, Orlando M. Johnson, Tim Lonergan, Michelle McCullom and Anthea Zeltzman.
"S'LOTTERY" runs through Feb. 5. The gallery is at 8 Market Place, Suite 100. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-962-8565 or visit www.mdartplace.org.
For more art events, see page 36.