Editors' pick



Editorial Review

Twelve-artist show at the Art Museum of the Americas

By Michael O'Sullivan
Thursday, March 31, 2011

There are no rock stars in "Corridor." The exhibition at the Art Museum of the Americas doesn't scream to be seen.

But the 12-artist show -- taking up both floors of the little-known and under-visited Spanish Colonial mansion-turned-art space just one block south of the Corcoran Gallery of Art -- is deserving of a listen for its quiet revelations.

As it has done several times now, the Art Museum of the Americas departs from its traditional mission of showcasing the art of Latin America with this all-local show, whose title alludes to the term commonly used to describe the area along I-95 between Washington and Baltimore. It wasn't conceived this way, but "Corridor" is a show about traveling, in more ways than one.

On the most literal level, it's a way of introducing some Baltimore artists to a D.C. audience. Six of the 12 are from Charm City; the other six from Washington. A couple of the Baltimoreans are household names there: Joyce J. Scott, who's know for her beaded sculptures, and John Ruppert, whose signature works are made from chain-link fencing. They're not so prominent here, and "Corridor" is a good opportunity to rectify that.

Of the Washington contingent, Brandon Morse probably comes closest to being our local rock star. The video artist, who shows at the white-hot Conner Contemporary art gallery, contributes one of his trademark digital animations, generated by homemade software. Called "Mariana," and evoking both the inside of a blood vessel and some strange and troubling geological eruption, the lush, wall-filling projection is a standout.

It's in the same room as Jeff Spaulding's "Raft," a pile of all-black trash that -- as meticulously assembled by the Washington artist -- has the majesty of a bronze monument to garbage. Spaulding's work also calls to mind the famous shipwreck painting "The Raft of the Medusa," by Theodore Gericault. Set adrift in an imaginary sea, "Raft" contains an implicit critique of our castoff-crazy culture.

Other notable artists include Sofia Silva. You'll find the Baltimore photographer's gorgeously bleak -- and empty -- urban landscapes hanging near Susana Raab's work. The contrast could not be more stark. Raab, from Washington, shoots the teeming beach culture of coastal Peru.

But the best juxtaposition, well handled by curators Laura Roulet and Irene Hofmann, is between the work of Washingtonian Phil Nesmith and Baltimore's Bernhard Hildebrandt, whose pictures hang in the same gallery. Here, the traveling is a kind of time travel.

Both artists are photographers, but neither uses a camera. Instead, Nesmith makes photograms -- images created by placing objects (in this case insects) directly on photographic paper, in the manner of the great Man Ray, and exposing it to light. Nesmith's pictures hang opposite those of Hildebrandt, who prints images taken from a TSA body-scanner -- a high-tech kind of photogram -- in a way that imitates the early photographic work of Eadweard Muybridge. There's also a sly commentary on our eroding sense of privacy.

One of the things art does is take us somewhere we couldn't (or wouldn't) otherwise go. At its best, "Corridor" connects us not just with new places, but with new ideas.

The story behind the work: Soledad Salame's 'Gulf Distortions'

Soledad Salame's contribution to "Corridor" is a suite of 12 photographs silkscreened on Mylar. Called "Gulf Distortions," they're images the Baltimore artist shot in the Venice and Grand Isle areas of Louisiana after the Deepwater Horizon blowout. They have a funny look, as though they're being viewed on a staticky old TV.

The degradation of the images — which echoes that of the environment they depict -- comes from the artist faxing the photographs to herself, which ends up pixelating the content. The shimmer comes not from the Mylar but from something called "interference pigment," a high-tech ink that lends the surface a pearlescent luster.

They shimmer prettily, like an oil slick, even as they seem to fall apart.

-- Michael O'Sullivan