Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Another Gem in Maryland: UMUC's Arts Program




This is Le Danseur Noir, a bronze by James Earl Reid. I like its marriage of muscled strength with a lightness and elegance of pose. I think we'd all like to look like this guy.

It is included in the current show of the University of Maryland University College's Arts Program. I've been involved with UMUC's Arts Program for many years. They organized my current seven museum national traveling exhibition. UMUC has for many years had an active mission to collect, document, and exhibit art from the state of Maryland. As a Maryland artist, this tugs at my heart because nobody else in the region is doing this. And UMUC does it very well.

The current show is dedicated to one of the key forces that started UMUC's Maryland Artists Collection, Doris Patz. Speaking as a totally unbiased Maryland Artist (who has three pieces in the Collection), I think this an extremely worthy project. Consequently I've volunteered on the Arts Program's Art Advisory Committee as its longest serving member. Years ago Doris called me up and asked if I'd be willing to donate a painting to this Collection. I'd never heard of her so I told her no. A few years later she called again with the same request and I again declined. But her tenacity intrigued me. Gradually I learned these people were serious about building a collection and exhibiting the work with a high level of professionalism. My resistance started to crumble. I realized this was a train I wanted to catch.

UMUC has put this show together to honor the memory of someone instrumental in its Arts Program's creation. Doris passed away recently so its a fitting time for an exhibition to celebrate on of her great enthusiasms.. It's a group show with a lot of abstraction in it along with a few realist oriented works. One of the things I like about UMUC and this show is the chance it gives me to rub shoulders with artists whose outlook and enthusiasms are a little different than my own. Sometimes they can do some remarkable things.


One of the most famous artists I've been able to get to know was Grace Hartigan, one of the key abstract expressionist painters and one of the first women to gain a serious following for her abstractions. She taught for many decades at Maryland Institute College of Art and only stopped teaching shortly before her recent death. Many of the graduate students who have helped me teach my classes at MICA were her students. Above is a major oil from 1969, Venus Observed. This is the kind of painting that's about bold and totally flattened out forms pushed right up against the surface of the painting. She's going for a big and loud first impression. To me it always looked like a very crowded party where the music was good and loud.



Here below is an oil by Keith Martin, a prominent Baltimore abstractionist who died some years ago. Like Grace Hartigan above, Martin wanted to propel the viewer's eye across the surface of his painting first and only then hint at little hidden recessed spaces in the piece. I had the pleasure of talking several times to this man of surprising gentleness and great modesty at his exhibits at the C. Grimaldis Gallery. He did amazing work on paper in both graphite and also collage. This oil is Escaping Deity.



Raoul Middleman is a colleague of mine and friend from the MICA up in Baltimore where we've both taught for many years (though Raoul beat me there). Below is his oil on canvas, Portrait of William Leizman, a picture bundling over with Middleman's characteristic energy.






Below is The Town (St. Mary's City), oil on canvas, 60 x 36" by Thomas Rowe. It's a painting that's one of my personal favorites in the Collection. A crowded dream like a stage set seems ready for a moody drama to begin. I like the way Rowe piled his houses one on top of the other




And here's a tempera and watercolor by David Driskell, an African American painter who is currently enjoying a surge in popularity with a show at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.
It reminds me ever so much of the wonderful dancing trees by another famous American painter, Charles Burchfield.





Here's Susan Aldridge on the right, President of UMUC talking with some of Doris Patz's family at the opening reception of the show recently. Aldridge has been with UMUC only a couple of years but is a serious supporter of the role visual art can play in bringing people together and bringing a special identity to the University.




And here at the right is the new Director of UMUC's Art Program, Eric Key. Eric's come to run the Program from a museum in the midwest just this year.



Eric and his staff have an extremely ambitious set of exhibitions and programs set for the next period. One I'm particularly excited by will be staging a juried exhibition for artists of the Mid-Atlantic region in the summer of 2011. For many years the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art held such juried shows every two years and forged links with the living artists of the region in the process. Unfortunately those long running shows have both been discontinued, but it is good to see UMUC stepping up to the plate. I urge all artists in our region to be on the look out for upcoming information on this show. Like all UMUC's shows, trust me that it will be extremely professional and elegantly presented. I'd urge all collectors and artist to come check out their Arts Program. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

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