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Art Reviews: Imaginations burn in 'Hot Spots' and 'Marilyn' exhibits

Saturday, August 14, 1999

By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Art Critic

Let me lay to rest the misinformed notion that art takes a holiday in the summer in Pittsburgh.

Jeff Shore's "The Lazy River" is part of "Hot Spots" at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. (Joyce Mendelsohn, Post-Gazette) 

This year has been hot -- as in "Hot Spots" at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, where work by Houston, Los Angeles and Miami artists sets fire to the second floor, while two thoughtful guild exhibitions and Scott Turri's continuing explorations of color and repeating patterns fill the first floor.

And at the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Gallery, Downtown, closing too soon, is a scintillating one-man exhibition of paintings by James Douglas Adams enticingly titled "A Marilyn Memory."

Walking through the energized galleries of "Hot Spots" is like encountering art through a zoom lens. It's artwork to stay with and enjoy: lively, inviting and upbeat. At a time when artists appear to be evolving in the direction of "fun," this work isn't just candy but, rather, sweets with substance.

While there's too much that is good for me to address in this space, some high points that will convey the juice of this spunky gathering are Jeff Shore's "The Lazy River," a three-dimensional drawing that's a mesmerizing schematic for engagement, Linda Besemer's confounding and vibrant explorations of process that she labels, unbelievably, as only "acrylic paint over aluminum rod," Bill Davenport's drolly humorous "Alpine Lake" and Julie Mehretu's delicate, cryptic mappings.

Inviting interaction are Daniel Marlos' amusing flip books and Luis Gispert's cheeky "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" (sit for sensory download).

Not all is perfect. Some pieces, like Liz Craft's "Monkey Puzzle," are so flip in idea and execution that they have fleeting appeal. And Naomi Fisher sets feminist discourse on the body back several decades with her overtly erotic photography and video installation whose subject seems to be bondage within the "man/grove."

But overall a dip into these waters is a mightily invigorating one.

Of the guild shows, Group A's "Fragments of Time" is small and neat with a high standard. The artists chose memory as a theme and, interestingly, a psychotherapist, Bill Cornell -- who states that he has no formal arts training but who obviously has an informed eye -- to be juror. "In the work of artists, memory retains a creative force," Cornell says, and this notion comes through strongly in the show. Work is abstracted or made vague in recognition of memory's open-ended interpretation.

Among many fine pieces are Janet Towbin's mixed-media works that have an implied transient beauty, and her installation that mentally envelopes the visitor who accepts the invitation to sit. Also notable are Jennifer Coburn's red-on-red painting that has subtle depth, Elvira Finnigan's measured marking of the rhythm of passing time, Anne Wolf's collection made mysterious through alteration by smoke and wax, and William Wade's intriguing photograph of a past moment that may be revisited at the right motel along a state route in a small Western town.

Larger and less even, but with several very good works, is the Pittsburgh Society of Artists' "Fin de Siecle," whose theme invited reflection upon the state of art -- and by implication culture -- at the end of the century. Reflective statements by each artist add dimension.

Judi Charlson's kiln-cast glass "Banished" is a stirring, complex sculpture that alludes to feminist progress, the "lost object of the figure in this century" and more. Aileen Zollweg's evocative printings are multi-leveled, rich imaginings that her considerable ability brings to life. Using the homiest of forms -- the quilt -- Shawn Quinlan makes chilling commentary on our children's loss of innocence in the superb "After School Special."

Lucienne Wald's digital works are impressionistic interpretations of dance, vivid with motion and drama. Lea Brown and Lila Hirsch Brody, in a departure from her usual style, invoke more somber concerns with two moving statements.

All at 6300 Fifth Ave. through Aug. 29. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Adams is a gifted painter whose output exudes committed passion. Refusing to capitulate to popular predilections, he continues a body of work that vigorously celebrates both paint and the figure while suffusing it with contemporary relevance.

At AAP, he masterfully explores the assignment of iconographic status through the difficult but powerful image of Marilyn Monroe, along the way teasing other major characters of the art historic canon, dipping into the construction of self image and how much is inner or other directed. So good.

At 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown, through Thursday, when Adams will deliver a noon lecture (free).

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