Graham Parks, North (2009)
Graham Parks, North (2009)

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“My Kind of Magic,” a group show curated by New York painter Beau Chamberlain for Project 4, is a grab bag of artworks for D.C. viewers who missed the Armory Show in March or the Frieze Art Fair two weeks ago or Chelsea recently in general. Not only is the show a sharp assembly of mostly New York–based emerging artists, it’s a show that expresses some common anxieties about the state of contemporary art and the direction of the art market.

Chamberlain is clearly concerned with color. His own work proves that—one of his brightly colored, biophilic abstractions is included—but the complete chromatic scale of colors is deployed in almost every work in the 10-artist show. The few exceptions, such as Dave McDermott’s monochrome, lacquered square paintings, emphasize the primacy of color by their lack of variation. It’s everything rainbow elsewhere in the show.

Scale is the element that makes “My Kind of Magic” so contemporary. Tamara Zahaykevich’s “Chameleon,” a small airbrushed foamcore sculpture, rejects the dominant ethos in sculpture—that sculpture be overized, room-sized, or even building-sized. Todd Knopke’s threaded-fabric work falls somewhere between the size of a painting and the size of a curtain, and it’s caught categorically between those things as well. It works by finding an ambiguous middle ground.

Graham Parks’ acrylic, stainlike paintings want to be larger. Anders Oinonen’s wondrous landscape paintings want to grow, too: It is usually the case with contemporary art that the unprecedented takes the form of the unprecedentedly large. Oinonen’s work is modestly scaled, but the brushstroke is thrilling—a challenging, gestural mark with oil that looks like stain. I want it to be larger because I want to see more of it.

Then there’s Jackie Gendel, a painter making work as if nothing has changed since Matisse. This work is appropriately scaled in the physical sense: Fauvist portraits, on the smaller side. It takes outsized character to make work that refuses to trade in the one-upmanship that today dominates painting (and art production in general). Chamberlain is a better curator than many artist-curators for assembling a show with enough variety to demonstrate a theme or two but enough leeway to allow for several kinds of viewings—another success in scale for Project 4.