This Maryland Federation of Art exhibition is hosted by the Art Gallery at University of MD at College Park. The first thing you realize (if you have been to an exhibition at the MFA”s Circle Gallery) is that there is Lots and Lots of space to display art and move around at a crowded Opening Reception. (Disclaimer: two of my collages were accepted.)
This is the second year the gallery at College Park graciously invited the MFA into their space, which before that had been dark for the summer. MFA is now “going steady” with this gallery or with the gallery director; John Shipman. This came about when Joann Vaughn went to MD Arts Advocacy Day and saw the table for Visual Arts where she met Shipman. He asked her if they would like to host a juried show off-site and she responded with a resounding “yes!” and the rest is history. Last year the show was national and the theme was large scale work. Joann said they got more entries for this year’s show than the last.
From Juror Dan Mills’ statement: “I was impressed by the number and quality of paintings submitted. There weren’t many 3-D works or prints submitted. There weren’t many drawings submitted either. There were many works that did not categorize easily, created by artists who make art by combining whatever media necessary. I like that.” The awards were handed out by John Schratweiser who is the Executive Director of MD Citizens for the Arts and is very supportive of the MFA.
This exhibition was also the unveiling of Sketchbook Project, started with a Meetup on May fourth, which was the kickoff event (organized by yours truly) for the MFA’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations. Everyone who purchased a sketchbook had one month in which to fill the pages of their sketchbook (part of the official Sketchbook Project) however their imagination dictated. Out of the 126 books purchased at the start of the project, 38 were returned to the gallery so they could be perused during the run of the show. At first I was disappointed more participants did not take advantage of the opportunity to return their books so we, as voyeurs could have a glimpse into their creative process. But, as I watched everyone pore over them I came to the realization that this was just the right amount. If there were more it may have been overwhelming. Some people were so inspired by this collection of sketchbooks that they bought some on the spot. An MFA member told me the work in her sketchbook inspired her to write and illustrate an actual book!
I drove through 2 squalls (if you are a sailor you know what that is) on the DC beltway to arrive at the Art Gallery at College Park early enough to see the show and take notes before the crowd arrived that would distract me from the task at hand. And there was a very large crowd, impressive for a thunderstormy evening. It was nice to meet and greet people I had never seen at the MFA gallery in Annapolis. I thought about artists who had never before had their work in a large white-walled gallery space and how impressive this would be for them.
The show was expertly installed by John Shipman, Art Gallery Director and he described his installation vision before the crowds arrived. He said the process reminded him of how much he likes the challenge of installing a large, juried show. He anchors a wall with a large piece in the center and finds design elements in other works that somehow relate to each other and goes from there. Another way Shipman unifies an eclectic mix of work is by placing something with a dominant blue area near the center hallway so that it subliminally drew you into the next space “so you see it before you enter the room.”
Such was the case in the way he installed my collage Steampunk Earthquake in Baltimore on the back wall of the back gallery, with a large blue-green circle in the center. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, when I entered this gallery that my work was awarded an Honourable Mention, thank you Dan Mills! This collage was partly inspired by the 2011 Baltimore earthquake and by a 1949 map of Baltimore with concentric circles showing how far you live from the central post office (how quaint, right?). The map suggests that there were so many new people moving to Baltimore after WWII that this information was useful. I also included lots of railroad imagery since the history of railroads in the US is the history of Baltimore.
One of the first paintings I noticed was Ellwood Derrick’s Pad van Paradijs, that reminds me of a Dutch Master’s landscape painting without the cows. He really knows how to make acrylic look and act like oil. The artist painted the title in cursive near the bottom and it added something; it let us know that it is definitely a riff on the genre. The title means “path of paradise” or “path to paradise”.
In the same gallery, on an opposite wall hangs Sherill Anne Gross’s collage titled Prepare for Takeoff, a flight attendant in a red uniform has multiple pairs of arms configured as a Hindu goddess. This image was used for the digital invitation and I liked it as soon as I saw it because it is a contemporary version of a religious pose. It is better in person, as is the case with all art.
Kay Fuller’s mixed water media Above the Fray is an abstracted version of the perspective we have grown accustomed to seeing thanks to Google’s street view. We see a skewed grid structure mimicing roads with debris strewn across, resembling trash and is made of collaged snippets of other paintings. The vibrant colours are what attracted me to this image and then I recognized it as the image on the postcard invitation for this show.
Aline Feldman is a fellow Honourable Mention recipient. Her whiteline woodcut is a slanty perspective of a bird’s eye view with a Matisse like floral pattern on the right side, just to remind us that a piece of paper is flat and perspective tricks our eye into seeing it as a three dimensional representation of a street.
The juror noted that there were not a lot of three-dimensional works submitted. One of the finest ceramic pieces in this show is Lesa Cook’s Medusa, sculpted from terra cotta covered with beautiful greenish patina. It is a nod (or a wink?) to classical sculptures and could be the missing head for a Greek or Roman sculpture.
One of my favourite pieces in this show is Robert Long’s It was not lonely but made the earth lonely beneath it. It is very simple and effective. It is a treadmill with the tread painted sky blue, a small cloud made of puffy cotton rotating endlessly around the treadmill and that is all there is to it. I see it as a statement of many people’s practice of going to a gym to work out when they could simply be in the out of doors with the same affect. In other words, we replace real things with the artificial. I am fairly certain, judging from the title that was not the artist’s intention.
Power 4 Sale by Michael Gouker is a photo montage whose title says it all. It mimics American paper money, with photos of Hillary, Obama, Romney and Ryan in each corner. You can easily guess when he made this and that he is telling us that our Presidential candidates are 4 Sale, indeed.
Barcelona: Grid and Gaudi by Robert Tennenbaum is an acrylic painting of a much enlarged street view of Barcelona’s port. There is a small decorative motif that references Gaudi, the modernist/slightly Art Nouveau architect whose magnificent structures are the signature style in Barcelona. The only way we know it is Barcelona is by the title.
Ali Miller has three oil on panel paintings in the show and Watch Yourself received a Juror’s Choice award. Ali received her MFA from MICA’s Hoffberger School in 2012 and as soon as I saw her work I had a feeling she studied painting at MICA, there was just something about it that let me know. This is a recognizable Baltimore interior (by the shape of the bay in the front of the apartment) with is the back of the room from our vantage point. The room is quite tidy at the back and it gets more and more disheveled as we move into the front (or bottom) of the space. The detritus is a painterly, magenta fluff floating on top of a deconstructing chaos. Perhaps, she was also inspired by the earthquake.
There were so many other works that I recall that deserve some description, but I cannot do justice to all. These selections will serve to whet your appetite to go to College Park to see this fine group of Maryland artists and the sketchbooks. There may still be some sketchbooks at the gallery, available for purchase.
MD Art@College Park and the Sketchbook Project
14 June – 2 August
Juror: Dan Mills, Director of Bates College Museum of Art
Author Anna Fine Foer is an Annapolis-based Visual Artist. View her work here http://www.annafineart.com.