With each summer sculpture show, Richard Zandler looks for a way to break the mold of how people think of the art form. Rather than fill the main gallery of the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center with traditional pieces such as human figures cast in bronze or stone, this year Zandler has chosen works that use mixed materials to take on a wide range of subjects.
Zandler, curator of the exhibition and director of the Laurel arts center, wanted to find "emerging artists doing exciting things" for the 24th annual Montpelier Invitational Sculpture Exhibition. He went to the graduate sculpture programs at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore and the University of Maryland, where he saw plenty of young artists, both recent graduates and current students, who fit his description.
"It was a real delight, because the level of quality at both institutions was really great," Zandler said. "All of the people there are really great -- this happens to be a small sample of them."
Sculptures by Vincent Donarski, David Farquharson, Perry Johnson, Sungmi Lee, Benjamin Lock and Cory Wagner are on display in the gallery through Aug. 21.
The six artists are skilled craftsmen and experimentalists who use materials in novel ways, and they have something to say about the issues they explore, Zandler said.
The sculptors employ steel, plastic, electronic microchips, concrete and bronze to delve into globalism, quantum physics, political power, environmentalism and other subjects.
The result is a gallery of diverse structures such as Wagner's "Map," a large, net-like visual representation of the Earth formed by hundreds of white plastic cable ties; Farquharson's "Quantum Foam," a structure that projects light, flashing randomly, from programmed microchips in an attempt to stimulate interest in the physical laws of the universe; and Donarski's "Blue," a bright study in patterns created by dragging welded steel pieces through blue chalk powder on a tabletop. Other works include Johnson's "Obelisk With Crutch Legs," in which a figure made of recycled wood resembling the Washington Monument is mounted on top of crutches; Lock's "Curve," a rounded, wave-like structure combining steel and concrete; and Lee's "Hands and Apprentice Touch," a mobile of 26 vacuum-formed, dangling hands molded from translucent plastic.
A May graduate of MICA, Lee, 27, said her work is a personal narrative about memory.
"I was working on mental memories, more like abstract memories in my past that fade, and then I became aware of physical memories, so I decided to cast my hand," Lee said. "The hands are a metaphor of mental memory and physical memory. It's very abstract, but I want to express my personal stories through my work."
Lee, who left Korea and her family at age 15 to come to the United States to attend boarding school, said her frequent use of translucent materials describes her individual tale.
"I am a totally different person in Korea and a totally different person here," she said. "I use translucent materials because they are changed by different colors and background and relate to my identity."
Most of the summer sculpture exhibitions at Montpelier have featured artists far along in their careers. In 2003, the museum hosted John Greer, an edgy Canadian artist who showed six-foot black structures modeled after a garden beetle's wing cover. The gallery took off the summer of 2004 from mounting a sculpture show to make room for its 60th "Anniversary of Normandy Invasion" exhibition.
"We always want to give a wide variety of sculpture that is out there. Most of our past exhibitors have been very well established people," Zandler said. "They're just starting their careers, but I have a very good idea that these people will become very well established."
The 24th annual Montpelier Invitational Sculpture Exhibition runs through Aug. 21 in the Main Gallery of the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center, 12826 Laurel-Bowie Rd., Laurel. The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free. 301-953-1993.