The Baltimore Sun

Dolly the giant Kewpie doll is in the house. So is the Olfactory Factory, Apparatus for Orchestral Knitting, Haussner's Ball of String and Fugue Chamber for Amnesiacs . Bozo Prison (for four or more) is out on the plaza.

These and other works by Baltimore-based interdisciplinary artist and self-proclaimed "cultural crackpot" Laure Drogoul, created over the past 25 years, have been assembled in one location for the first time in a sprawling, multimedia exhibit that opens tomorrow at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Follies, Predicaments, and Other Conundrums: The Works of Laure Drogoul is the title of the show, which runs through March 15 in the Meyerhoff and Decker galleries, the Gateway building and other campus locations.

Installed with the help of students from the college's Exhibition Development Seminar, it's the first large-scale retrospective of Drogoul's work and one of the largest shows ever mounted at MICA.

"It's a lot of maraschino cherries" in one spot, Drogoul acknowledged last week while taking a break from installing the works. "Crazy."

A native of Jersey City, N.J., Laure (pronounced Laura) Drogoul, 54, earned a bachelor's degree at Temple University in Philadelphia and moved to Baltimore in 1979 to study at MICA, earning a master's degree from its Rinehart School of Sculpture in 1981. She stayed in Baltimore after graduation and has become an influential figure in its art and music scenes, creating a diverse body of work using sculpture, installation, performance and Web-based media.

In a catalog that accompanies the show, Drogoul describes her work as "projects with objects, video, sound and action, whose forms function together in the way a theater might work." She also calls herself a "maximalist" and a "hoarder." One recurring theme to her creations is that they explore the human condition in one way or another. Many are participatory in nature, designed to make viewers an integral part of the art that they've come to experience.

Drogoul's work has received numerous honors and awards, including a 2004 fellowship that allowed her to study in Japan. In 2006, she was the first winner of the prestigious Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize, now granted every year to a visual artist during Baltimore's Artscape festival.

Gerald Ross, MICA's director of exhibitions and curator for the show, said he suggested a retrospective because he has long been impressed by Drogoul's work and wanted to bring it together in one place.

Because Drogoul works with a wide range of media and at a variety of scales, Ross said, her art was an ideal subject for the college's yearlong Exhibition Development Seminar, which is taught by Glenn Shrum and gives students a chance to be involved in every aspect of a major exhibit.

"In Follies, we have an opportunity to explore an extraordinary artist, her influential role in Baltimore's art scene, and how that scene and the essence of what is Baltimore - quirky, spooky, slightly offbeat and darkly comical - is infused and reflected in her work," Ross said. "We are grateful for Laure Drogoul's openness and artistic generosity in making it possible to organize such a dramatic and diverse collection for this exhibition."

Ross added that he finds Drogoul's work particularly intriguing because it's sophisticated, yet also has a simple, do-it-yourself quality that makes it very accessible. Since she is a MICA graduate, he said, "it seemed to be appropriate that we do it here and we do as much as possible."

Judging by the exhibit, there are many subjects that hold Drogoul's interest. The list includes: B-movies, space aliens, animals and humans with big eyes, synthetic fur, the color pink, architectural follies, the sound of knitting needles, lanterns, masks, seances, labyrinths and Baltimore.

The exhibit features many of the pieces that have startled or delighted viewers in previous exhibits and puts them close to each other so they can be compared with the artist's other work.

There's the Bozo Prison, which consists of a giant head that looks like it came from a wicked clown, sitting atop a jail cell-like cage with room for figures inside who may shout insults at passers-by.

There's Dolly, the 25-foot-tall pink Kewpie doll that is lighted from within and repeats, "I Love You, I Love You, I Love You," until observers, initially drawn to the cherubic figure, may want to flee.

There's a giant ball of string, inspired by a similar ball that was kept at the old Haussner's restaurant in East Baltimore and was auctioned off after the restaurant closed. Drogoul used the same white tablecloth material to make the string for the replica, which may prompt viewers to ask whether one ball is any more "authentic" than the other.

One gallery wall is covered with images of big-eyed creatures, from cats and dogs to babies and adults. They evoke the ubiquitous greeting cards featuring bug-eyed animals expressing sentiments for every occasion. Drogoul says the images are a comment on the fact that when babies are born, their eyes are the same size as when they're fully grown. She is also intrigued that when space aliens are depicted in movies or tabloids, they're often shown to have big eyes.

The exhibit includes one large new sculpture, tentatively called a "She Pod." It's shaped like a zaftig woman, crouching on her haunches, with a doorway on one side that people can walk into. When they do, they'll find a hammock surrounded by plants, a place for meditation in the midst of the gallery. It's the artist's homage to fertility goddesses and the "green" design movement.

Drogoul said she was unsure how the exhibit would turn out before the installation began. But, as of last week, with most of the pieces at least partly in place, she said she thinks they'll work together well because they are more about exploring ways of creating and experiencing art than staring at the final product.

"I'm not interested in making art that references art, per se," she said. "I'm interested in the process and the energy behind it. I'm interested in performance. Not just the body. The heart. The bones. The blood. What makes the work go. That's why my work is very experiential. So that when you see it, you're affected by it."

Drogoul said the pieces were available to display because she's not the kind of artist who sells much of her work - she isn't even represented by a commercial gallery - but she does hold on to it.

A Howard Street resident, Drogoul said she supports herself by teaching, securing grants and accepting commissions, including one for an interactive exhibit for the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. The Sondheim Prize, with its $25,000 monetary award, gave her a chance to work and travel. (The piece that won the Sondheim Prize, an 8-foot-tall mask titled The Root, isn't in this exhibit, although it was shown at MICA in 2006.)

Besides the visual art pieces, Drogoul is the founder, artistic director and "hostess" of the 14Karet Cabaret, a performance, music, dance, film and video series that she created in 1989 with Maryland Art Place. During this exhibit, it will be staged in BBOX, the "black box" theater inside the college's Gateway building at 1601 Mount Royal Ave.

Drogoul said preparing for the exhibit gave her a chance to look back at her work and see how well it has held up.

"It's been wonderful organizing everything," she said. "I have to say it allows me to view the work objectively, in a way that I might not otherwise. There's a lot of self-critique involved."

Organizing the show has also given her ideas for new projects. One idea, she said, is to turn her architectural follies into a series of floats, as if for a parade. But instead of marching them down the street, she said, she'd like to put them on barges and sail them into Baltimore's harbor, creating a 21st-century "float-illa."

For now, she said, she's just looking forward to the opening of the exhibit and seeing how people react. She has one bit of advice for observers who wonder what it all means.

As much as this collection may seem influenced by the city where she lives, Drogoul said, it's more autobiographical than anything else.

"I don't make things deliberately related to Baltimore," she said. "I make things related to my life."

if you go

Follies, Predicaments and Other Conundrums: The Works of Laure Drogoul will be on exhibit starting tomorrow and continuing through March 15 in the Decker and Meyerhoff galleries of the Fox Building at the Maryland Institute College of Art, 1301 Mount Royal Ave. in Baltimore. An opening reception will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow. A performance of the 14Karat Cabaret will take place from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Feb. 13 in the BBOX theater at MICA's Gateway Building, 1601 Mount Royal Ave. MICA's galleries, which are free and open to the public, are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Other MICA events related to the Drogoul exhibit include a "Knitting Jam" from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Feb. 6; a gallery talk with the artist at noon Feb. 21; a "Scented Papermaking Workshop" from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 28; and a "Phantom Limb Sewing Seminar and Knitting Lessons" from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 28. For more information, go to Drogoul will also perform a series of French singalongs with Dick Turner from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m March 13 in the Bakst Theatre at Evergreen Museum and Library, 4545 N. Charles St.

laure drogoul

Born: Aug. 27, 1954, in Jersey City, N.J.

Education: Bachelor's degree from Temple University; master's degree from the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art

Occupation: Interdisciplinary artist, teacher, cabaret hostess

Residence: Baltimore

Working on: First large-scale retrospective of her work, at MICA, tomorrow-March 15

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