Thursday, July 12, 2007

Things Present Things Past

Geez. I've been bad with this toy. About three weeks ago I submitted the following article (later than I wanted) to my editor at DCist and it was eventually rejected (because it was too late). So here it was,... a review of the last show at Glenview Mansion...

As a note, my latest review of the exhibition at the Sackler can be found here.

Currently, on display at the Glenview Mansion Art Gallery in Rockville, Maryland are the works of three artists: Michael Baltzer, Margaret Paris, and Lisa Aerianna Tayerle.

The Glenview Mansion Art Gallery, in casual discussion, is an often forgotten or unknown arts place – known to some in Rockville, but more obscure to those living south of the Beltway. This is probably due to the complications of finding the venue off of I-270, after the 4A Exit, past Viers Mill Road, resting on the corner of Edmonston Drive and Baltimore Road. It is a sprawling 150 acre estate, run by the city, and nestled amid a bumper crop of post World War II housing. In the evenings it is not uncommon to see deer wandering about nibbling on clover. Unless a person lives in the neighborhood, it is not a destination a anyone might think to go out of the way to see. However, every four weeks there is something new as the Mansion has a steady rotation of two and three person exhibitions for (nearly) each month of the year.

Greeting the visitor up the stairs and in the hall is the work of Michael Baltzer whose mixture of paint on various layers of Plexi-glass teeters on the line between grotesque and eloquent. The work could be labeled as sloppy or highly methodical. They are not pretty, nor do they aim to be. The paints drip and flow, puckered and piled like pustules. Melted plastic and acrylic clings like flesh to the surface of its support. Compositions are overlapped to exercise the property of transparency, punctured with rods and nails, sewn and sutured together, or held by industrial staples. Medical tubing peaks out from some. The major impetus for this work stems from a relationship with the body. If that association is overlooked in his handling of paint, the astute observer will at least notice the illustrations from old medical texts that are used as the ground for some of the paintings.

The works of lesser strength by Lisa Aerianna Tayerle are the many small drawings throughout the gallery. They encounter a number of problems, some stemming from a sense of preciousness. Most of their compositions are static with objects and illustrations placed in a manner that nullifies their potential dynamism. Some colors are muddied or arbitrary. Granted, this is not true for all of them, and they are the ones marked with little red dots. Where the drawings have strength is as food for thought – a sandbox for exercise and moving ideas around until they form monumental castles: her altarpieces. Here, the preciousness works to her advantage in her reliquaries and shrines to nature’s objects. The hinged boxes contain wonderful illustrations and gold leafing, echoing Catholicism, for the worship of the custodians of fertility, decomposition and inertia: bees, tiny rodents, and corals – the creatures that hold nature in the balance. And it seems that preciousness is befitting for these subjects. With a population of bees on the decline, the price of corn is not only going to be affected by its use as biofuel, but by its scarcity in Midwestern fields.

The Polaroid transfers of Margaret Paris – consisting of sepia toned images of the Florida Everglades – are nothing spectacular, but they are pleasant and easy to live with. Branches and grasses weave together in abstract geometries much like any glade. Each photograph, roughly 5” x 6.5” inches in size, possess the intimacy of a family snapshot: a work to be viewed on a leisurely stroll from the den to the kitchen. Still, without this work, the thematic context of these three artists assembled together would not feel as apparent. Paris’ directness is counter to Baltzer’s subjectivity.

Exhibited together, they give a sense of faculty and awareness of interior and exterior environment, and on a subtle level question what is sacred and profane. This is something our politicians have backwards as they discuss about God rather than environment in their pre-election debates, a discussion better left to Mullahs and Cardinals than legislators. Such an argument is an abase profanity in the presence of code orange afternoons and corporate-sponsored fast-food school lunches. This is not to confuse the art for the argument; that would be conjecture. But, seeing as how art can function for critical commentary, it would seem that if it is not the position of the artists it is the position of the jury to place these three artists together and create a form of dialog that illustrates the fragility of the body and the world it inhabits.

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