Editors' pick

The Sum of the Parts

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Editorial Review

Artists prove that more is not less
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, March 9, 2012

For the uninitiated, Maryland Art Place can be a little hard to find. With its unassuming entrance nestled between Ram's Head Live! and the Comedy Factory in Baltimore's Power Plant Live! complex, it's an island of calm in a sea of neon.

But its exhibition "The Sum of the Parts" deserves a couple of exclamation points of its own.

This solid group show is the brainchild of curator Amy Boone-McCreesh, the latest beneficiary of MAP's well-regarded Curators' Incubator, an annual mentoring program for emerging curatorial talent. For "Sum," Boone-McCreesh has found four artists, each of whom uses a cumulative process -- adding together many small pieces to make a larger, more meaningful whole -- in his or her art.

The simplest form of accretion is in the work of Jerry Kaba. Both of his sculptural installations center on multiple cast-ceramic objects. "Toms River" is an array of 21 yellow jars on a bed of brown soil; "Outmoded" features 10 batlike objects, each of which has been coated with a kind of red synthetic rubber called Plasti-Dip.

Taken individually, the artifacts themselves just aren't that interesting. They look vaguely industrial and utilitarian. In a pile, however, or lined up in rows, they're suddenly a commentary on mass production. The tension comes from the fact that Kaba, obviously, isn't a machine. The ever-so-slightly-sloppy hand of the artist -- in service of robotic repetition -- was never more apparent, or more poignant.

Sculptor Lauren Clay's hand-cut paper abstractions don't mimic manufacture. Her two most striking pieces - which are both jaw-dropping and whimsical - feature hundreds of strips of painted paper, cascading almost organically, like hair, around boxlike substructures.

At first glance, her art seems as baroque as Kaba's is minimalist. But what's more minimal than a blank piece of paper? Clay's art manages to straddle -- and to poke knowing fun at -- the extremes of art history.

Nikki Painter contributes 14 abstract drawings to "Sum" (12 of which are hung in a 3-by-4 grid). Though the grid underscores the work's multiplicity, the drawings are all different. Not wildly so - Painter's style evokes exploded architectural renderings - but varied enough to maintain visual interest.

Where Painter succeeds best is with her room-size sculptural installation that takes up the whole of the gallery's front room. Called "Play," it's like a 3-D version of her drawings: draftsmanship made flesh. The title is also a pun. The work is halfway between a funhouse and a stage set.

If there's a scene-stealer in "Sum," it's Emily Barletta. The artist, who works with yarn and embroidered paper, makes her most unforgettable statements with delicate crocheted sculptures that call to mind body parts.

The subtext of time and mortality is everywhere in Barletta's labor-intensive work, though it never reeks of effort. It has the look of a handmade scarf - a labor of love - but it packs the power of a punch to the gut.

It will take your breath away.

The story behind the work
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, March 9, 2012

Since her childhood in Utah, Emily Barletta has always loved needlework and crafts. It wasn't until the Brooklyn-based artist got to Baltimore's Maryland Institute College of Art that she realized the techniques used in her hobbies could be applied to fine art. Barletta graduated from MICA in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in fiber arts.

The artist attributes her interest in crocheted forms that suggest organs and body parts to a spinal disorder she has had since childhood, one that causes her to be more acutely aware of her physical being than many people.

The processes of crocheting and knitting seem perfectly suited to her art, both formally and conceptually. The tiny stitches and knots that Barletta uses accumulate like cells, each one seemingly insignificant in itself, but adding up to a grander whole.