Walk The Line
Through May 26 at School 33 Art Center
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By day, Michelle Joan Wilkinson is director of collections and exhibitions at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. But this spring she is moonlighting as a curator of a different sort: Wilkinson is the brains behind Walk the Line, the new show at School 33 Art Center.
The exhibition, which includes eight artists—all, incidentally, female—who work primarily in an abstract vein, is meant to highlight work that explores boundaries, that “navigates the contours of the edge,” as Wilkinson’s statement puts it. The result is a somewhat sprawling show, as boundaries can of course be both literal and figurative, and are largely open to interpretation. But while the exhibition itself struggles to express a larger theme, some real standouts lie within.
The visitor is greeted by two large textile pieces by Baltimore resident Erika Kim Milenkovic. Titled “Fall” and “Spring,” the pieces hang in organic tendrils from the wall. “Fall” consists of muted, earth-toned, cone-like protrusions made of canvas caught in the act of unraveling, like autumn itself. Loose threads crisscross the piece like errant Spanish moss, and the sense of decay is unmistakable. “Spring” is also constructed of canvas, but is different in crucial ways. Here the strips of canvas are crocheted together, resulting in hanging ropes with bulbous ends that seem to harbor mysterious possibility, like flower buds. The colors remain muted, but here are peaches and lavenders and teals. The ropes seem to creep over the gallery wall, with all the fecundity and potential of spring.
Several of Christina Barrera’s pieces—she has five in the show—also reference the natural world. Two large mixed-media works titled “We Are Going in Different Directions I and II (you are tiny even in death)” are among the only figural pieces in the show, and they are oddly powerful. Each depicts a nude woman, rendered in charcoal, shadowed by jungle foliage, and bearing a white cat on her shoulder. These are night scenes, and from afar the figures are obscured by shadows as well as by a strange, three-dimensional swirling red line that interrupts each. Like a trail of light, a smell, a train of thought, it travels through the pieces unexplained, looping under and over plant leaves as if it were a natural part of the scene. Similar red swirls appear in other Barrera works, but her other pieces here—such as “A Kind of Cosmos,” featuring a red swirl superimposed on what appears to be a photocopy of a photograph of an anonymous stairwell—are more inscrutable and a great deal less evocative.
Michelle Carollo’s “In a Split,” on the other hand, doesn’t traffic in subtlety. The piece is ranged along a back wall of the gallery, but draws the eye like a dazzling car wreck. It measures perhaps 18 feet long and 10 feet high at its highest, and functions as both installation and wall hanging, with numerous elements protruding out into the gallery space. (Perhaps that is the boundary the artist is exploring, in line with the show’s theme.) Abstract geometries of aluminum, plastic, metal, and cardboard painted in loud reds, turquoises, and greens combine to form a piece that positively vibrates, variously screaming ’50s diner, Rube Goldberg machine, and children’s play set. The adjoining wall is a stark contrast. Here hang the sophisticated works of Nancy Bruce, who works with varying types of reclaimed paper to create what appear to be paintings. From afar, her pieces have a flat, muted look, but close inspection reveals a rich textural surface. In fact, Bruce’s abstract renderings of cityscapes are among the most winning pieces in the exhibition. Her “9th and Selene,” rendered in grays, ivories, and sand tints, is entirely symmetrical and seemingly austere, composed of small rectangular blocks (windows? doors?) in a larger field. But the surface of the piece has a visible weave with minute frayed edges, sprinkled throughout with a gold sparkle. Tiny details like the orientation of the paper’s stitching and the very slightly recessed surface of the “windows” jump into focus up close, just as the slight differences within a seemingly uniform block of rowhouses are invisible from afar but become apparent under examination.
Other pieces in the exhibition that are worthy of note: Jordi Williams’ engaging “Universal Alignment,” a sort of minimalist sand mandala, and Jeanne Heiftez’s delicate wall hangings, made of colorful, pencil-lead-thin glass rods stitched to stainless-steel mesh.
And while you’re in the building, take a gander at the other two exhibitions now on display. Local artist Christian Parks’ Recent Works is a collection of mostly sculptural pieces that put a playful spin on banal objects. The works include a giant set of wood-grained pushpins (“Eames Pins”) and the witty “Spiritual Ladder,” a ladder that gets progressively wider as it ascends. Nearby, the local artist team of Lauren Nikolaus and Becca Pad play with a more literal sort of ascent with “A Captive Behavior,” a site-specific installation. Here the visitor is invited to ascend (and later descend) a set of steps that ring a small room. Subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the height of the risers force one to pay attention to every step of the everyday act of climbing a staircase.