Carla Massoni Gallery
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Other Dimensions
February 19 - March 19, 2005
Opening Reception: Open House - Saturday, February 19,
10-5 pm

A review of "Other Dimensions" by Deborah McCleod

Deborah McLeod is an independent curator and arts writer, now living in Chestertown, Md. She has previously served as staff curator at the McLean Project for the Arts in McLean Virginia, the Hand Workshop Art Center in Richmond, Virginia, The Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia and the Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia. She wrote bi-weekly art reviews for Style Weekly Magazine in Richmond, was a regular Virginia contributor to Art Papers Magazine, a national magazine out of Georgia, and has been published in Ceramics: Art and Perception out of Australia. She also writes essays on art for art catalogs.

Crabs and corn, herons, geese, and watercraft of various design, have established their claim on our collective image of the Eastern Shore. Wonderful things all, they number among those that my husband and I recently moved here to savor, leaving behind the Washington metro area. In doing so we assumed that we would be forfeiting some gratifying cultural amenities in our search for a little less manmade noise.

We discovered instead that there is some serious culture this side of the Bay. This ineffable natural refuge is also an actively creative place. Surprising perhaps - if one is only expecting to find that the most complicated aesthetic detailing and verbiage will belong to the science of birding - that hidden beyond the Fragmites and cornstalk scenery is a thriving, groundbreaking art scene.

For those of us who wish more from art than to happily identify its subject matter with certainty, there are at least two exhibition venues here that can be relied upon to satisfy that desire. At this moment they are collaborating on a theme that offers two highly satisfying shows, and coincidentally they expand Baltimore’s multi-site project Tour du Clay .

In the three first floor exhibition spaces of its historic Easton location, the Academy Art Museum has recently opened Particles and Passion. And in the beautiful New York style gallery loft at Carla Massoni in Chestertown, Other Dimensions is on view. The latter has been thoughtfully organized to correspond and elaborate upon the first.

Two years ago, Chris Brownawell, director of the Academy Museum, decided to present an exhibition of adventurous contemporary teapots. He invited Susan Hamilton to serve as the curator. Now retired from the Smithsonian and living in Easton, Hamilton is also a ceramist. As is often is the case with teapots, through shared conversations new ideas began to pour. Particles and Passion became a national survey of artists who experiment with form and content in clay. Hamilton toured the country and visited the large craft expositions in Baltimore and Philadelphia to select an extremely diverse show. The featured artists represent an even greater worldview, having been nurtured with the influences of many cultures. The main gallery succeeds perfectly as an installation that ebbs and flows with the surfaces, imagery and inherent voice of each object adequately isolated. One can stand in this gallery and feel resonances among the separate ceramic works that is very engaging - from the show stopping (and show starting) self portrait sculpture by Sergei Isupov, that is part mask and part Kama Sutra pew group, beyond the silent, guardian caryatid of Christine Federighi, and over to the voluptuous, futuristic Vessel, Ochre of Chris Gustin. There is a decidedly operatic inclusion of human emotion and condition that calls from every corner. The refined detente of Bennett Bean’s exquisite, elaborately rendered Honeymoon teapot and Michelle Erickson’s strategically stacked and peacefully co-existent one both contrast their small piercing energy with the stoic, towering priest figure by Steven Olszewski that is barely of the earth – while being made from it. Michael Sherrill’s fascinating ceramic Rhododendron is as flawlessly skinned as Jeff Shapiro’s corroded slab construction is breached and rent by a fiery kiln acting like speeded-up time. The exhibition title refers to the bits of dust and mineral that become through the magic of pyro-physics, a dimensional object, the second to the intensity felt by the psyche for an image that seductively reflects itself. Particles and Passion is aptly named.

Other Dimensions at Carla Massoni Gallery is an interesting take on Part 2 of a collaborative exhibition. Because several of the artists included in the Academy show are represented by the Massoni Gallery, the gallery is highlighting work by these specific artists, work which ventures into different media or direction. The artists featured in both shows include Seiko Behr, Elizabeth MacDonald, Clair McArdle, Ebby Malmgren and Leigh Wen. Guided by the theme, the installation at Massoni Gallery establishes a different sensibility altogether, even while one of the artists, Elizabeth MacDonald, is represented by a masterpiece that is much in the vein of her piece in the other show.

Other Dimensions is a gentle and introspective show –even chapel-like, almost as if this other side of each artist’s nature, the one that works in paper or stone, is the personal side, while the person that clay brings out is extroverted and physical. MacDonald’s large installation is truly impressive, but the single “tiles” of the Other Dimensions show really manage to interpret the specific of one-in-many as something even greater than the sum of the whole. I found them to be the more engaging.

Claire McArdle’s ceramic figures are most articulated in her clay pieces and theatrically strategic, while her stone carvings of the same feminine forms in their elegant upright vigil are less defined and revealed, and as such they appear more collective. They seem to have relinquished ego to become waiting handmaidens of some greater purpose. It determines them as spiritual agents. Seiko Behr is beloved in Chestertown for the distinctive clay vessels that she produces. The direct, but not necessarily simple purpose of designing Ikebana arrangements inspires her highly sophisticated sculptural forms. Her stunning works in Other Dimensions are quiescently open, introducing and providing service to the camellia or the willow branch, while her freshly experimental origami-inspired sculpture in Particles is a humorous and animated piece. In the former one might say that she provides feet, in the latter, they are decidedly legs.

Leigh Wen’s scratch drawings are purely magical – whether they are on paper or in ceramic glazes. Other’s pivotal “vista” piece is the incredible Sea /Dawn III, that depicts sunlit lines on the fractured lapping surface of a body of water. It is stunning, mysterious and disorienting, as is Wen’s massive ceramic Water Bowl. It truly is one of those “How did she do that” pieces. But Wen’s images that I was especially drawn to were around the bend of the Massoni Gallery’s moveable walls. Smaller, discrete, these subtle, mixed media works on paper are earth mappings as if seen from a great atmospheric distance. Their surface is scored with a single crucial line or circle. It marks the location where some event is about to, or has, occurred that is completely in the possession of the beholder, even while it might have some personal significance for Wen.

The artist books by Ebby Malmgren are lovely little poetic works, really a paper version of the sort of semi-private storage that her clay boxes also provide, with the same invitation in. The intimate scale, and the preciousness of her work has a simple sincerity.

The two remaining series of works at Carla Massoni are toward the rear of the gallery. Not really part of the collaboration with the Academy show, they are sort of prizes in the Cracker Jack box. Susan Tessem’s delicate graphite renderings of window views and Anne Nielsen’s luminous photo-process images of hands both describe a precarious fragility to life. They continue the mood of Carla and Larry Schroth’s sensitive gallery installation, which has a hushed and haunting quality… a little less manmade noise. It makes an interesting contrast to the vibrant cultural cacophony of the Academy installation.

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