Timeless relevance

Timeless relevance
The Permanent Collection Revisited
Through Sept. 16
Maitland Art Center
231 W. Packwood Ave., Maitland

In the 1930s, amidst unemployment, bank failures and world financial crises, André Smith calmly set about creating an art colony in Maitland and proceeded to paint, draw and sculpt artwork that remains fresh and interesting today. Rarely seen works from Smith and his colleagues in MAC's permanent collection are now on display, says curator Richard Colvin, and they are still relevant to our times. (Colvin wisely numbered many of the untitled pieces for the viewer to reference when considering the works.)

An architect, Smith frequently drew buildings, such as watercolor 2.2, showing a street scene from France; buildings also were metaphors, as in painting 4.5, which shows a desultory 1930s rural shack, behind which rises a gigantic tower sculpted entirely out of writhing nude figures. Atop, the sculptor continues to carve, oblivious to the poignant poverty below. In the painting pictured here, a rather genteel skeleton represents the death of a dream — street artists take note — resting on a cruddy old couch outside his hovel. (That same green couch, now a historical collectible, resides at Stardust Video & Coffee.)

The exhibit begins with Smith's World War I sketches, which he documented while enlisted in the Army, much as courtroom artists do today when cameras aren't allowed. These pieces foreshadow tragedy, depicting bombed-out villages and scenes of ordinary people trying to function in this especially horrible conflict. The display continues into the middle gallery with artists such as Milton Avery, an icon of early modern art, who visited the Maitland facility when it was still known as the Research Studio. This work is fresh and uplifting, and Avery's casual style stands out, making the room, with its high ceiling and natural light, feel somehow safe and secure.

But the last and final room on the circuit has the deepest impact on the viewer. Here Smith's later work returns, appearing quite grim, with unrelenting contrasts between the reality of the Depression and his own dreams. Overall, the subject matter selected for this collection is of a period that eerily resembles the watershed events of today. Looking at Smith's visions creates a time-warp effect on the viewer that leaves a lasting, if somewhat melancholy, impression.

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