Picasso, Matisse sketchings explore when the artists stepped out of line

May 10, 2012

Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse are known for their way with color. But there’s almost none in “Picasso & Matisse: Models & Muses 1906-1956” — and it’s not missed. This exhibition of their works on paper at Neptune Fine Art is a celebration of line, supple and straightforward. There’s a reason why many of the other impressions of these artworks, most of them limited-edition prints, are in museum collections.

The principal subject of “Models & Muses” is, of course, the female form, generally undraped. Matisse approaches it most directly, with such pieces as “Le Jour” and “Le Nuit” — the same figure twice, but reversed, one with eyes open and the other with them shut. Even more stark is “Nadia. Masque souriant,” a riveting 1948 aquatint that conjures a face with just a few bold strokes.

Picasso’s work is more involved and playful, sometimes using multiple styles in a single piece. His 1934 “Quatre Femmes nues et Tete Sculptee” combines classicism and cubism to depict four women in a gallery, with a sculpted head and two paintings in the background. This might be just an array of black lines on paper, but it’s not exactly modest. Picasso shows a similar cockiness in the frisky “Still Life With Pears,” one of the few full-color items. (It also dates from 1960, defying the show’s self-imposed time limits.)

Christine Neptune, who assembled these 33 pieces, has a history with many of them. Some she’s selling for the second time, and the show includes work in frames she selected, such as the undulating gold one chosen to complement the ruffles in a 1929 Matisse etching. Such attention to detail, both in the art and the presentation of it, makes this show well worth a visit, even by those whose budgets can’t be stretched to purchase a modern-master print or drawing. These lines on paper may appear simple, but their allure is complex.

J.W. Mahoney

Last year local artist, curator and writer J.W. Mahoney spent four days in Arlington County jail — “not unjustifiably,” he writes — after a DUI conviction. His artistic response is “Carceral,” a series of digital-print collages whose overall title echoes “Carceri d’Invenzione,” the 18th-century etchings of imaginary prisons made by Italian architectural fabulist Giovanni Piranesi. Mahoney’s works, on display at the Curator’s Office, don’t emulate Piranesi’s intricate lines. Instead, they rely on lines from Franz Kafka, Bob Dylan, “Dune” author Frank Herbert and others.

There are many other ingredients: blocks of color and 19th-century images of microscopic organisms, as well as photographs and diagrams from “Fortress Third Reich,” a book of Nazi military architecture. Still, Mahoney’s work is as much literary as visual. The title of each piece is part of the design, along with phrases in various languages: the Sino-Japanese characters for “proper name,” probably taken from an official form, and “lema sabachthani,” part of the Aramaic lament to God attributed to Jesus on the cross. Mahoney calls the pieces, which are accompanied by a soundtrack of prison songs, “semi-successful escape attempts.” That phrase, like the collages’ mix of biblical, existential and countercultural quotations, might seem overly dramatic. That’s not such a surprising outlook, though, for art that’s conceived behind bars.

Michelle Peterson-Albandoz

Lately, it seems, there are as many trees and flowers in D.C. galleries as there are in its parks. Michelle Peterson-Albandoz’s “Urban Forest,” at Long View Gallery, adds to the vegetation, but with a difference. The artist builds her work from the leftovers of gentrification in her Chicago neighborhood. She uses weathered strips of wood to construct assemblages that range from pure abstraction to a “Nature” series that employs decorative leaf-shaped scraps, like an inner-city William Morris.

The lumber that Peterson-Albandoz collects is often painted, and she uses the colors carefully. These pieces emphasize neutral hues, but sometimes brighter shades ripple through them or cluster in one area of the composition. Some of the leaf pieces include green shapes among the grays, whites and tans, but the artist’s use of color is usually not so literal-minded. Her purely abstract designs suggest early-20th-century abstraction gone to seed, with the bright primary hues aged into hundreds of interesting tones. According to the gallery’s statement, Peterson-Albandoz wants to highlight “the destructive relationship humans and technology have on nature,” yet the deterioration of her materials yields more beauty than outrage. After all, the decay of form and color is a natural process.

‘Traces of Memory’

Galicia is one of those Eastern European regions that’s been repeatedly passed — or torn — between countries, including Ukraine and the Austro-Hungarian empire. Among its darkest periods was, of course, 1939 to 1945. Over a period of 12 years, the late British photographer Chris Schwarz traveled in Western Galicia (now part of Poland) with what a new exhibition at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center calls “the intention of showing what can be seen today about the past.” “Traces of Memory: A Contemporary Look at the Jewish Past in Poland” is a tour of shadows, glimpsed in cemeteries, devastated synagogues and a small notch for a vanished mezuza (a prayer scroll traditionally affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes).

Although Schwarz’s images are artful, the goal is documentary, with captions to explain each image. Many of the photos show gravestones, whether used reverently to construct a memorial or contemptuously as street paving. There are also views of unmarked burial sites, notably the Nazi death camp at Belzec, described here as “the principal graveyard of the Jews of Galicia.” Yet among the abandoned synagogues is a Krakow shul that’s been lovingly restored, and a shot of contemporary pro-Nazi graffiti is countered by a picture of the annual “march of the living” at Auschwitz. “Traces of Memory” tells a grim story, but it’s one that doesn’t end in despair.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

Picasso & Matisse: Models& Muses 1906-1965

on view through May 25 at Neptune Fine Art, 1662 33rd St. NW; 202-338-0353; www.neptunefineart.com.

J.W. Mahoney: Carceral

on view through May 19 at the Curator’s Office, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-387-1008; www.curatorsoffice.com.

Michelle Peterson-Albandoz: Urban Forest

on view through May 20 at Long View Gallery, 1234 9th St. NW, 202-232-4788, www.longviewgallery.com.

Traces of Memory: A Contemporary Look at the Jewish Past in Poland

on view through May 21 at the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW; 202-518-9400; washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/gallery.

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