Well, I found a place with worse galleries than D.C.: La Jolla, Calif. It’s just a tony little resort town, so its art shops might be expected to traffic in ultrarealist scenes of underwater animal frolics and to pimp names, such as Jiang, familiar chiefly through full-page ads in ArtNews. But L.J. scores points for proximity to Santa Monica (two and a half hours is close in California), and it boasts a Museum of Contemporary Art that actually deserves the name. It also has weather and light, particularly in summertime, that would never be mistaken for Washington’s. Not that at least one D.C. painter isn’t trying…
1.) Michael Francis at Gallery KIt’s pretty canny marketing to head into fall with a series of local cityscapes that amount to little more than weather porn. As skies turn gray, happy purchasers will revel in candied purpling-pink light thatlet’s face itrarely shows up around here.
2.) Maria Karametou at Gallery KMystic soft-mindedness (a BC staple) takes wing this month in a show heavy with sprung birds, fallen angels, and gabled shapes that handily connote a domesticated spirituality. The so-called “Urban Tenants” are tiny fan/sci-fi figurines that are apparently metaphysical portraits of acquaintances of the artist. Hitpoints stats available on request.
3.) “Elvis Lives!” at America Oh, Yes!Chicken hawker Elayne Goodman is still hanging around, but the real star (and perhaps the most ersatz “folk artist” yet shown by the gallery) is the calculating Kata Billups, whose collectors include Randy Quaid, Julia Roberts, Michael Stipe, and “Susan Surandon.” Billups specializes in whimsical paintings of Elvis sightings the folk authenticity of which is underscored via studiously misspelled legends, as in “I saw Elvis at the Krispee Kreem.”
4.) Susan Due Pearcy at Washington Printmakers (“Field Series”)Straightforward works named “Walnut” and “Milkweed Pod” are accompanied by actual examples of their subjects. Remarkably, these natural articles are not notably less banal than their representations, which implies that culture (in the guise of home-decoration emporia and potpourrimongers) has dragged nature into the ring and is beating it to a pulp.
5.) Laurel Farrin at AntonEvery since Camper Van Beethoven’s David Lowery sang, “She’s the queen of the Bondo,” I’ve wanted to meet her. Too bad Farrin, who also presses rubber balls and plastic figurines into service as art materials, is just another home decorator in artist drag. Her palette is perfectly attuned to the tastes of Anthropologie customers, even if her prices aren’t. But if she came off selling her aggregations as single entities, they’d fall right in line. The way I figure it, if 270 hydrocal-encased pine cones go for $6,000, one would be under 25 bucks, tax included.
6.) Kiki Felix at Anton (“Le Sacre-Coeur: Nature Morte”)Assorted skimpily painted produce with Latin IDs (e.g., a pomegranate is Punica granatum).
7.) Olivier Debré at Alex(“Paintings and Prints: 1948-1996”) The downside of D.C.’s much-vaunted internationalism is that the stodginess of our leading industry attracts the most polite exponents of foreign culture, resulting in such shows as this, which consists primarily of perfectly tasteful washy blue and orange (or, for the more existentially inclined, washy black) abstractions. Not tone-deaf, but lyricism that sings only the tunes you’re sick of.
8.) Fred Folsom at Artists’ Museum (“Following the Muse”)Simply ghastly. If you draw no distinction between American Artist and American artists, this stuff’ll go down like a St. Pauli Girl. Folsom may revere Norman Rockwell, but Norm never fetishized drawing to the exclusion of expression, and he also knew how to integrate posed vignettes into a pictorial scheme without making his characters seem divorced from one another.
9.) “Divine Madness: The Influence of John Waters, or Bringing Trash Into High Art” at Washington Center for PhotographyWho knows how “Robert Mapelthorp” (per quasi-literate wall text) got dragged into thishe gave a shit about facture. Waters, on the other hand, I understand. The aesthetic of such failures as Desperate Living is echoed in work that is jejune, slapdash, and, frankly, rather dull. These kids (at least it all looks like student work) need to learn that you can’t avoid the question of talent by attempting only work that requires none. What’s worse, the blatant but ineffectual attempts to shock the audience “by taking risks, pushing perceived ideas, incorporating paradox, or having fun” only emphasize the unalterable conservatism of the milieu these “artists” are rebelling against.
10.) Kitty Klaidman at Marsha Mateyka (“Light and MemoryA Summer in Normandy”)The signature works are acrylic washes on wood depicting what appears to be indeterminate wreckage washed up on shore. Ah, the wastes of remembrance!
11.) Ru«za Spak at Troyer Fitzpatrick LassmanAt the opening, the painter’s husband, who confessed to having fallen in love with the artist before he knew her work, and who admitted to harboring conservative tastes in painting, was pressed into making a speech. The first thing he had needed to know, he said, was if she could paint a chair. Well, it’s not the first thing I need to know. That would be whether an abstraction passes the Plagens test: If it makes your mouth water, it’s good. Alas, no spittle here.
12.) Members’ Show at FoundryThe Corcoran, which has done rather well this year, should learn when it’s taking this community outreach stuff too far. What does it mean for Terri Sultan to curate a show if she has only the work of Foundry members to choose from? And don’t the Foundlings get it? Lesseeshe’ll pick over our work for a co-op show, but it’ll never show up in the museum…
13.) “Preludes: Selections from the 1997-98 Season” at Addison/RipleyFirst prize goes to highly visible jaw-jockey William Dunlap’s Dog Style: Fight or Flight. It’s got it all: bad purples, handmade paper, central figuration encircled by prissy, literally marginalized abstraction, and a frisson of menace that exists only on the wall label.
Blowing the Curve:
Art Good Enough to be
1.) “National Airport Artists on Paper” at NumarkThis one’s a gimmethe work actually is shown elsewhere. To get at what’s revelatory about this show of admittedly mainstream work that’s still good to look at, you must compare its offerings with those enshrined in Cesar Pelli’s new National. The impressive mosaics are best seen from the second level and identified from the first, while the glass friezes by Al Held and Jennifer Bartlett must be seen against the sky from below. The railing panels made by various artists with the assistance of Fireform Porcelain are virtually complete failures, since none of the works actually appears to have been conceived for the medium. Siah Armajani’s treatment of lines by Walt Whitman looks great on paper but is virtually illegible when rendered in metal. And naturally, Numark’s offerings are geared toward powerful Washington collectors who want to possess privately what was originally intended for the public.
2.) Jene Highstein at Baumgartner (7th Street)Quiet, massive, indeterminately Eastern sculptures that exert a subtle but undeniable motive force on the viewer.
3.) “What’s Hot” at Baumgartner (R Street)Corny name, but the most striking gallery group show I’ve seen in ages. Highlights: The aquarium-garish colors of Nabil Nahas’ painted pumice Pompei, the Lari Pittman-meets-Disney elasticity of Sue Williams’ Appendages in Full Bloom, the strangely formalized (and de-eroticized) dance of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s pornographic (porn is a subset of art, not a category excluded from it) Bring Me the Head Of… Not to mention the fragile, suggestive prickliness of local sculptor Tara Donovan’s toothpick cube, which contains a surprising amount of space within its mass and looks right at home among the high-powered company. After I’d spent another lousy First Friday prowling R Street, this show made me happy indeed.Glenn Dixon