City Paper is not for tourists
I gave First Friday a shot, but August being what it is in the art world, nothing much came of it. Anton and Robert Brown were showing grab-bags of things left over from earlier shows, and Washington Printmakers and America Oh, Yes! offered the usual sleepy group shows. Most everyone else was closed. I picked up one of those creamy $4 Slurpees at Starbucks, bought a book about pre-video era pinball machines at Kulturas, congratulated myself on a singularly gratifying round of R Street gallery hopping, and figured I’d hit the hinterlands on Saturday.
My big find was Hovermale’s, a soft-serve ice cream shack on Livingston Road in Fort Washington. I can’t say the chili dogs and dipped cones were all that extraordinary, but they were good enough, considering I wasn’t even looking for the place. This epicurean side trip wouldn’t normally rate a mention (though devotees of crushed ice should know that Hovermale’s has the genuine article), except that it seemed to set a tone for an afternoon of reduced expectations, which ended up being exceeded more often than not.
Naturally, the hinterlands are rather distant from one another, making for more driving and less looking than a Saturday customarily provides. That said, there was still plenty not to see:
1. “Edges and Boundaries: An Exhibit of Ceramic Artists From Rural Maryland” at Harmony Hall Regional CenterThe most successful works here are the least, ahem, ambitious. But the restrained traditionalism of Lynn L. Lais’ plates and platters decorated with hexiform designs was overpowered by the cute, literal-minded fancy of Marie Cavallaro’s The Fans at Home Plate (an all-white ensemble consisting of a dinner plate rimmed with tiny fan forms and outfitted with a baseball cap and a baseball diamond, complete with a miniature house standing in for home). The gallery was dominated, however, by the high-school mysticism of Alice Yutsy’s Going Within the Transformational Vortex and Human Connection, both consisting of unseeing faces forcing their way out from a central trunk (cue In Search of the Lost Chord).
2. Lisa Austin at Montpelier Cultural Arts Center (“Palimpsest”)Austin’s résumé, which shows her bouncing between short-term positions around the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, raises the question of just how many MFAs we need, even when they’re from Yale. Her installation, which apparently, like her other work, concerns “issues of family, childhood, and community,” consists of crudely wall-painted maps and bent metal rods that gracelessly arc through the space, failing to unify or evoke much of anything. She argues for “a spontaneity of conversation among objects and images” that I frankly cannot hear. And I don’t feel like taking her word for it.
3. “Variations on a Theme: Members’ Show” at Washington PrintmakersPairs of different states of etchings, aquatints, monoprints, etc. play the before-and-after game. Possibly of technical interest, but that’s it.
4. “Animals in Folk Art” at America Oh, Yes!Outsider-art aficionados ought to have seen this coming (antique-hounds certainly have). Country folk are no more stupid and no less venal than their city brethren. So if Aunt Lou can upgrade her market position from firemen’s-fair sideshow attraction to urban-gallery centerpiece without changing her style, why shouldn’t all her kin hang out shingles, too? If Elayne Goodman’s button-covered All-American Chicken doesn’t persuade you something’s wrong, nothing will.
Faint Praise: Art Above the Threshold
1. Bradley Silberberg at Montpelier Cultural Arts Center (“Seventeenth Annual Montpelier Invitational Sculpture Exhibition”)The blacksmith’s Totem Sticks go native to no particular effect (I swear the labels of Carciofi Head and Turk are reversed), and subtitles such as Container for Lingering Doubts and Container for Petty Thoughts demonstrate the artisan’s weakness for endowing actual vessels with metaphysical utility, but Silberberg’s small, lidless (and unsubtitled) Squashed Containers make forces of torsion and compression powerfully visible.
2. “Phelps Senior Center Rug Hooking Exhibition” at Montpelier Cultural Arts CenterThis time, traditionalism triumphs. Beverly Auckenthaler’s richly patterned aqua, teal, and sea-green Rug and Bernice Howell’s radially symmetric Peacock are good enough to walk ongood enough, that is, to live with. Most of the rest are kitschy pieces made for the wall, not the floor, but they undoubtedly deliver fond sentiment to their makers and are priced accordingly: NFS. Although you wouldn’t think so from its name, Sarah Province’s $300 pink, rose, and maroon Valentine Rug is tasteful and quite lovely. Someone ought to snap it up.
3. “Cartooning 101” at Rockville Arts PlaceThe curatorial conceit seems to have been, “If you can get your hands on it, show it,” and the catalog essays offer a persuasive case for comics rotting your mind (“They are easily aprehendable, yet, deceptively Simple. They are complex, and leger domain and they engage us at all stages of life”), but there’s a lot of stuff here. Some of it (an R. Crumb Weirdo cover, original Doonesbury strips) make the nontrivial task of finding RAP worth the effort (hint: look for a small sandwich board by the curb).G.D.