- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2001

Enter the first cavernous gallery of "BodySpace," an exhibit of work by nine artists opening Feb. 18 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and you see Do-Ho Suh's celadon silk replica of a Korean house floating from the ceiling.

The museum suspended it from the top of its tallest gallery, 30 feet from the floor. The natural light that floats through the room's skylight enlivens it and the other works in the gallery.

Next you'll notice Sowon Kwon's digitally manipulated environment of two huge leather sofas, called "Jennifer's Convertible," which stands beneath the house. Robert Gober's handmade plaster-and-steel sink, "Inverted Basin," sits in a corner.

The works introduce an exhibit that concentrates on different kinds of spaces and sensory experiences, especially the spatial relationships between art objects and viewers. This particular gallery focuses on artists working with ideas associated with domestic space.

If that sounds obtuse, consider the way you usually experience art. You look either at the flat surfaces of paintings or forms of sculptures while walking around them. You see but do not touch, smell or taste the art.

These artists aim to change this. Viewers can walk under Mr. Suh's diaphanous silk house and feel how it moves with the air currents. They "touch" the piece by experiencing its motion.

Viewers have to walk through Felix Gonzalez-Torres' floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall curtain of shimmering beads to cross the second gallery. The Cuban-born artist's "Untitled" (Water) serves as both a glistening hanging and a wall. As such, it must be touched — usually a no-no in a museum.

Brazilian sculptor Ernesto Neto constructed the room-sized "Sister Naves" in 1999 as an environment both for looking and entering. He created it in two softly sensuous sections connected by a corridor. It could be a womb, spaceship or nave of a church. "Sister Naves" is both translucent and opaque and made of a pristine white Lycra nylon.

The work is intriguing because it works on so many levels. "Naves" means "a ship," "the nave of a church" and "a vessel" in Mr. Neto's native Portuguese. His environment refers to all three meanings.

He also suspended transparent bags of cloves inside to add smell, as well as touch, to the work.

Exhibit curator Helen Molesworth conceived "BodySpace" as an extension of the museum's collection of 1960s minimalist art and mounted a special exhibit of minimalism, in the West Wing's Thalheimer Gallery. She included minimalist icons Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Sol Lewitt and Ellsworth Kelly as a history lesson for "BodySpace."

Critics long gave minimalism a bad rap for its spare repetitiveness, lack of emotion and rejection of content. It is now back, and the artists of "BodySpace" — like others — are giving it a new twist.

"It was exactly the shift from looking, deemed an exclusively visual activity, to perceiving, which implies the full range of the senses, that is so important to minimalism," the curator writes in the exhibit's brochure.

"BodySpace" artists also explore the spatial and public-privacy issues of the minimalists. Examine once again Mr. Suh's re-creation of a traditional wooden Korean home on a one-to-one scale in silk.

Called "Seoul Home/L.A. Home/New York Home/Baltimore Home," the piece is a floating evocation of home — an especially personal and private space.

Mr. Suh says that "home" changes with lives full of constant change and that we carry "home" in our bodies and memories. He renames the piece each time it is shown by adding the name of the latest exhibition site.

Cady Noland explores the disturbing loss of separation in the public and private realms. She focuses on Patty Hearst — the heiress, fugitive and bank robber recently pardoned by President Clinton — to show we can learn even the most "private" details of public figures.

The artist took six images of Miss Hearst from tabloids and family albums and silk-screened them onto a gleaming aluminum plank, presenting intimate exposures of a public figure in a seemingly casual way. Miss Noland just leaned the piece against a wall without the benefit of a sculpture base.

The artist seems to suggest that the tabloid journalism of William Randolph Hearst, Miss Hearst's grandfather, has something to do with America's appetite for the blending of public and private lives.

Claudia Matzko of Baltimore plays on privacy issues and also the contradictory "looks" of mass-produced and handmade art.

She made the exhibit's impressive wall-sized "Salt Wall" of salt and resin tiles. The 6-inch-square tiles that compose the piece call up the dehumanized, hygienic walls of bathrooms and kitchens.

On closer examination, the viewer sees the many imprints of Miss Matzko's hands and implications of movements of her body. "Salt Wall" has the textural beauty of works made with handmade paper. She made what could have been a homogenized image into something vibrant and vital.

For a curator to tackle an exhibit such as "BodySpace," a showing of cerebral artists looking at other cerebral artists, takes courage. This is Miss Molesworth's first major exhibition as curator of contemporary art at the museum.

She previously worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery of the State University of New York at Old Westbury. The curator was the founding editor of "Documents," a magazine of contemporary visual culture.

Miss Molesworth was limited to creating the exhibit in four galleries. The exhibit would be more effective in a larger space with more examples of work by each artist. A room devoted to each artist would have been ideal.

One of the attractions of the recent exhibit by German artist Wolfgang Laib at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was the amount, and variety, of space his work was given.

"BodySpace" also would have benefited from a more in-depth examination of the artists' minimalist predecessors and installation-art offspring. Unfortunately, the museum's gallery of minimalist artists is far removed from "BodySpace." A close-by, more available display would have been better than explanatory labels about minimalism.WHAT: "BodySpace"WHERE: Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive, BaltimoreWHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends, until 9 p.m. the first Thursday of each month, Feb. 18 through May 27TICKETS: $6 for those 19 and older, $4 for seniors and members, and free for those younger than 19 and during first Thursday of each monthPHONE: 410/396-7100

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