Cardboard City

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Editorial Review


By Mark Jenkins
Sunday, September 15, 2013

Although built of concrete, brick and steel, cities can become fragile. German--born Baltimore artist Artemis Herber captures that sense of instability by painting cityscapes on corrugated cardboard, which is torn, battered and sometimes shaped. Her work is featured in “Cardboard City,” a three--artist show at the Goethe--Institut.

Herber’s favored medium is softer and more malleable than metal yet it is also an industrial material of sorts. Ragged cardboard seems an appropriate surface for views of such scourged Baltimore--area sites as Sparrows Point, once used for steelmaking and shipbuilding. Herber pushes the connection further with “Bubble,” a hanging piece made of contoured cardboard and painted with rust, so it looks like a clump of decaying metal grapes.

Aging and abandonment aren’t the only enemies of monumental structures. Other Herber paintings evoke the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the April collapse of a factory building in Bangladesh. Less specifically, but vigorously, “Swept Away’s” slash of raised cardboard suggests collapse and disarray. When the artist’s palette turns brighter to depict old but less--weathered buildings in “Motel” and “Factory,” her work takes on a Hopper--like quality.

Also included are several more traditional paintings by Valery Koshlyakov, a Russian artist who spends much of his time in Paris. He uses cardboard to depict venerable structures, including the remains of imperial Rome and the main entrance to Rouen’s Notre Dame Cathedral. Employing white and brown tempera to accent the tan cardboard, he conjures edifices that have endured, however battered.

The third painter is Steve Keene, a New Yorker whose repeated motifs draw on American history and Andy Warhol. Keene reveals his Washington--area origins with “Northern Virginia,” in which Civil War soldiers march through a list of skirmishes that includes the names of NoVa shopping malls. If the battle of Sparrows Point has been lost, the war of Tysons Corner continues.

An ambitious group show on a monumental theme, “Knowing” presents 19 Maryland artists’ musings on Eve’s expulsion from the garden of Eden. (Well, Adam, too, but there are a lot more representations of Eve.) Curator Maniane E. Chettle asked the participants to contemplate nudity, the exchange of innocence for knowledge and the effects of separation (from God, or whatever). As might be expected, many of the re­sponses to these ageless concerns take contemporary forms: video, performances and installations.

The assemblages benefit from the exhibition’s venue, Area 405, a large industrial building not far from Baltimore’s Penn Station. It’s no Eden, but the space’s high ceilings and partition into two rooms offer many opportunities. Alzaruba recasts doorways between the rooms into portals to and from paradise. “Expulsion,” with its grasping red hands, is particularly vivid. Laure Drogoul’s “Father Sky” nearly scrapes the ceiling yet has room only for a pair of shoes and spats, with the rest of the deity suggested by flashing red, green and blue disco lights.

On a smaller scale, there are photographs, prints and paintings. DeAndre Britton’s mixed--media “Eve” is part voluptuously rendered flesh and part loose line drawing, with a pixelated face. An agreeably simple installation by David Fair, who’s best known as co--founder of the band Half Japanese, features a checkers set decorated with snakes and apples.

The larger pieces, though, define the show. Nicole Fall’s “Tree of Knowledge,” made of steel, combines delicate forms and found industrial objects. Oletha DeV ane’s “Eternal Tree” symbolically visualizes a journey toward a better place, made by former slaves guided by Harriet Tubman. Lania D’Agostino’s “Chapel of Transfiguration” features 10 life--size nude figures, anatomically sort--of--correct, that wear animal--head masks with fluorescent shades of fake fur; the tableau’s theatricality is suitably dramatic, even if it suggests a Fellini--style “Midsummer Night’s Dream” more than “Genesis.”

At Randall Scott’s pop--up space 14 months ago, Chris Bors showed paintings that pretended to be printed matter. They combined pop--culture images, outlined like the pictures in children’s coloring books, with hardcore--punk band logos and simulated drips from watercolor paint pots. (The pigment was actually watery acrylic.) The New York artist includes a few similar pieces in “The Youth Are Getting Restless,” his current exhibition at Scott’s current gallery. But the show, named for an album by D.C.’s Bad Brains, departs from the coloring--book format in interesting ways.

“Minor Threat” is a white--on--white piece in which the epochal D.C. band’s insignia (and everything else) is barely visible, while “Cro--Mags” blocks part of that group’s logo. The major departure is a series of paintings of nothing but dripping watercolor pots. These wink at both Damien Hirst’s dot paintings and 1960s post--painterly abstraction but are satisfying simply as meticulous exercises in color and form. “Black Drip” neatly counters the all--white “Minor Threat,” while “Yellow Drip” ---- the only one not on a white background ---- introduces Day--Glo ­orange and a more viscous texture to the repertoire. Where Bors usually mimics ink--on--paper material, this canvas commits fully to paint.

Of the 19 artists represented in “Glass, Glorious Glass,” a show of kiln--formed sculpture in its last weekend at Glen Echo’s Popcorn Gallery, most make pieces that retain some vestige of usefulness. The selection includes mirrors, clocks and vessels of various kinds. That doesn’t mean the work can’t be artful and distinctive. One of the most striking pieces is Sherry Selevan’s “Twisting,” a bowl whose blueness is interrupted by a spiraling white spine--like form. Generally, though, the less practical objects do tend to stand out. Virginia Hughes’s “Sedona” depicts the Southwestern landscape in a group of interlocking, red--orange glass buttes. Michaela Borghese’s whimsical “Curtain of Fish” arrays dozens of clear squares that depict outlined fish and bubbles, while Bev Sleph’s “Mountain Storm” robustly swirls and spatters black on clear glass. It’s closer to an abstract expressionist canvas than something you’d keep in the pantry.


By Michael O’Sullivan
Friday, August 23, 2013

Part painting, part sculpture and part political statement, the painted--cardboard works in “Cardboard City” aren’t just images on a nontraditional surface. The medium favored by the three artists showcased at the Goethe--Institut ---- German Artemis Herber, American Steve Keene and Russian Valery Koshlyakov ---- shares both the qualities of a found object (having once been a box or packing material) and the qualities of commentary (on, say, the tension between permanence and impermanence).

The exhibition, which explores themes of urban life, consumerism and man’s impact on the environment, opens Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m., with an appearance by the Owings Mills--based Herber and the Brooklyn--based Keene.

For information about gallery exhibitions, go to goingoutguide.com/museums.