Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Any collector worth his salt will tell you that he or she has a curator’s instinct. They’ll expound on the care that they take in collecting art—that it means following a higher calling than merely decorating a home or an office space. Increasingly collectors are getting the place they want in the broader conversation—sometimes detrimentally. Collecting isn’t incompatible with curating. But curating requires a skill set, whereas collecting is mostly a product of circumstance and inclination. “Collectors Select,” which commissions five local collectors-cum-curators to arrange a gallery each, reveals the difference.
Daniel Levinas, for instance, doesn’t seek to make a statement with his selection. His contribution is a no-frills show of heliographs by León Ferrari, an Argentine artist who was honored in 2007 with the prestigious Golden Lion award, which recognizes the strongest work at the Venice Biennale. (Ferrari’s work is almost unfairly suited to be the strongest work in this show as well.)
Ferrari’s heliographs are overhead schematic drawings, filled with elements drawn from plans for office spaces, residences, and traffic patterns. These figures and objects are Letraset transfers, which were once used to drop art, icons, and figures into architectural plans—press-and-rub clip art. Jumbled like puzzle pieces (a surfeit of toilet fixtures here, a cluster of pedestrians there), the standardized pieces are arranged in simple, senseless patterns. The swing of a door along an arc (diagrammed on blueprints to ensure that one door won’t collide with another) becomes a graceful geometric mark. His reductive mazes and highway cloverleafs are cluttered (or rather, overpopulated) by Letraset figures and sedans. Every piece comes in an ultimately unlimited edition and is intended to be folded, mailed, unfolded, and displayed—a meta-message about use and social mapping. (And surely a gesture beyond the pale for those collectors who hope to own a unique and precious thing.)
Lavinas shows the artist without pretension: His biggest intervention is to have the gallery painted a deep shade of cherry-lambic red to match the heliographs. Philippa Hughes went further. The least experienced collector in the group, Hughes invited some graffiti artists—Tim Conlon, Bryan Conner, RAMS, and the Soviet—to tag her room. The intervention is the work here. But Hughes is bursting through a door that’s been open for nearly three decades. There’s still room for innovation in graffiti, but graffiti in a room isn’t innovative alone (even if it shares the room with floor-to-ceiling Tiffany windows, as it does here). Context notwithstanding, the work by Conlon (which takes up most of the room) is dull in any formal sense. As tags, they’re not particularly intricate or witty; as abstraction, they don’t offer much.
Formalism informs the most cohesive room of the bunch: Philip Barlow’s presentation of geometrical abstraction. It is surprising but fitting to find Tomas Rivas’ work in this setting. Rivas, who carves and manipulates drywall surfaces to make architectural patterns, at first seems a stretch, but his work belongs in Barlow’s room, if only for the way his drawings fall askew on the drywall plane. There’s something of an age gap in Barlow’s choices. Rivas and Michele Kong launched their careers in this decade; Simon Gouverneur, an artist who came to prominence in the ’80s, committed suicide in 1990, just as Wayne Edson Bryan hit his stride. Rivas and Kong (whose drawings are as delicate as her sculpture) both eschew color; Bryan and Gouverneur indulge in it. The younger set wins this generational contest. Gouverneur’s work contrasts geometrical clarity with calculated errors but also sloppy mistakes—seen up close, the execution of fine details is lacking. Bryan’s op art is precise, but in one work, Straylight, his use of pop-science parlance—chromosomes, spirals and wave functions, DNA code strings—is distractingly cheesy.
Heather and Tony Podesta do something a little closer to, and a little safer than, curating. Photographic works by Steve Alterman and Kathryn Cornelius and an installation by Barbara Liotta all feature rocks. Liotta’s Ascent I thrives against a handsome black backdrop, setting two rows of marble chunks suspended in midair by string. In another gallery, collector Henry Thaggert has installed a miniretrospective of video works by husband and wife Brad McCallum and Jackie Tarry. Following the more overt questions the pair raises—about man/woman, black/white, and dominant/submissive relationships—comes a nagging feeling that there’s an issue the couple hasn’t quite addressed. Is this hi-fi or lo-fi video art? The wipes and transitions used as McCallum and Tarry shave each other’s heads with straight razors, for example, wouldn’t cut it in Hollywood. But the effects are too far removed from the basement realm of most video-art postproduction. The works feel transitional, as if they want for a budget more suited to their aesthetic.
Julian Fore doesn’t go to lengths to explain what William Christenberry’s Southern-Gothic photography and John Dreyfuss’ art-deco-like sculpture share in common. Very little, it would seem, other than the confident assertion of Julian Fore. But that’s plenty good enough. Fore’s apparently theme-free show has a lesson that galleries should heed: Showing up (and supporting) is the Lord’s work, and praise upon those who take it upon themselves. But the rest should be left to the professionals.