Variety is hallmark of Glenview Mansion's worthy show

by Nancy Ungar
Sep. 20, 2000

John Mors' steel conglomerate captures the purpose of the pyramids' invulnerability: to protect the dead within.

The Mansion Gallery of Rockville has begun its fall season with three solo shows by three very different artists. John B. Mors is a sculptor who draws his inspiration from ancient architecture, seeing it not only as abstract sculptural form but also, anthropologically, as the embodiment of culture. His corten steel surfaces reflect the strength of these still extant buildings even in their miniaturized format while their warm brown hues add life to an otherwise rigid exercise in geometry.

"Bench, Ostia" is a 20-inch-high block that is pierced through the center by a circular cutout. The opening extends through to the top of the piece, splitting it neatly into two small seating areas. This is an elegant form, a sculpture worthy of the moniker "minimalist." But it was chosen by the artist not only for its abstract simplicity but for its historical resonance. These benches are still present in the town of Ostia, but in ancient Rome they were designated for use only by men and therefore become artifacts of a culture in which the inequality of the sexes extended even to seating areas.

Mors' work is captivating whether it deals with mundane outdoor seating or with spiritual quests embodied in pyramids and basilica. In "Pyramid Inversion, Old Kingdom, Egypt" Mors has combined the exterior of the massive Cheops pyramid with the recessed doorway to the inner burial chamber of the pyramid at Unas. Mors' steel conglomerate has captured the purpose of the pyramids' invulnerability: to protect the dead within. The perfectly scaled geometric interior exudes a sense of mystery, holiness and permanent shelter aided by the no-frills reductionism of his harmonic forms.

Christine Fendley is a skilled painter who has taken her compositional cues from the cropped imagery of film and photography (as did earlier masters, such as Degas); her romanticism from the tete a tete of 19th-century novels; her shorthand descriptions of human form and her use of pigment to color the space in her paintings from 20th century abstract colorists like Milton Avery. Much of Fendley's work seems like vignettes in a novel. A significant moment is highlighted that, were it not portrayed, would pass unnoticed.

"The Boxtop" allows us to spy on a couple, a sharp-jawed, hatted woman garbed in black and seated on the floor with her back against a pink wall. The young man she faces is silhouetted, his back to us. The partially opened green box between them has no obvious significance. It is the moment, the contact, the electricity between the two spanning the warm pink space, that is the true subject of the painting.

Similarly, "Will She Bite" has three subjects: a woman seated on the floor and barely squeezed into the confines of the left side of the painting; a dog on the right side of the canvas, held taut by a thin leash; and the space between them as they make eye contact. The dog seems friendly but questioning; she seems wary. Both figures watch and wait while the gray air between them bears the psychological burden of their locked gazes and their tenuous separation. One wonders who is asking "will she bite" -- the woman or the dog.

"Playing with Dolls" by Joan Z. Rough is a series of large manipulated photographs portraying a twilight zone distortion of dolls' heads. They are nightmares in which the human, false and plastic, is threatened by sublimation in an unpleasant environment of swirling color. In one print four heads are distorted and their bodies obscured by a crawling pink atmosphere that threatens to drown them. The largest doll's eyes are popped wide open in a horrified gaze.

Two portraits seem to use not a doll but a real human head in that the skin surface seems fleshy. An acid blue and white sea surrounds the form, etches out the eyes and mouth and is closing in quickly to dissolve the rest. All of Rough's work prompts similar feelings and, after the first shock, one wonders why.

Works by Mors, Fendley and Rough will continue at the Glenview Mansion Art Gallery through Sept. 26. The gallery is located in Rockville Civic Center Park, 603 Edmonston Drive. For information, call 301-309-3001 or 301-309-3354.

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