Select: WPA Exhibition and Art Auction Gala

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Editorial Review

A bit of everything
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

For Washingtonians who haven't regularly prowled local galleries over the past year, here's a chance to catch up. The Washington Project for the Arts' annual auction, dubbed "Select," happens March 3, and until then the available work is on display on the lower level of the former Borders store at 18th and L streets NW. The array is not designed as a comprehensive overview of the current Washington art scene, but it's a pretty good one nonetheless.

Chosen by eight curators, plus the WPA board, "Select" includes works by about 100 artists. Many of them are local or have a local connection (although there are ringers from as far away as Moscow). The participants include such well-established figures as William Christenberry (a screen print of battered cans, as well as an unexpected abstract drawing), Dan Steinhilber (an abstract "painting" made of mulched plastic bags) and Leo Villareal (a shifting, LED-generated red "sky" inside a plexiglass box).

The art is grouped by the curators who picked it, which makes for some interesting affinities. The work selected by Seth Adelsberger, for example, tends to be brightly colored, mixed media and on paper. Overall, though, the assortment is as diverse as the local art scene, in form and theme. There's plenty of abstraction but just as much representation, and the latter ranges from Muriel Hasbun's eerie photo of a boy with stuffed cats to Lisa Ryan's portrait of a young, gun-toting Michael Caine.

There are, of course, views of our town, both federal (Lilly Valle's "Trifecta" of monumental structures) and funky (Billy Colbert and Ken Ashton's "The Reinvestigation of a Neighborhood," a collaged tour of pre-gentrified Shaw). Komar and Melamid riff on historical imagery with "The Great Seal," featuring our first president, while Paul Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky, tweaks militaristic patriotism with "Manifesto for the People's Republic of Antarctica, Poster One," featuring belligerent penguins.

But Miller (a New Yorker who grew up in the District) is no more typical of "Select" than Amber Robles-Gordon, who contributes two of her hanging-fabric abstractions. There may not be something here for everyone, but that's not because the selected artists are all grimly conforming to one or two dogmatic -isms.