Capricorno Gallery

Gallery
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Editorial Review

Galleries columnist Jessica Dawson reviewed Capricorno's inaugural show for The Washington Post:

Capricorno on P Street
By Jessica Dawson
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 6, 2003

Last Thursday night, an Italian gallery debuted at Dupont Circle on a strip of P Street not far from a grocer and a tanning salon. The modest digs mark the third branch of owner Antonina Zaru's Capricorno chain. She opened the first on Capri in 1997 and the second in London early last year. Her gallery specializes in contemporary Italian artists, most now at mid-career. For her Washington gallery's debut, she mounted selections by 15 artists from her stable. All but two are painters.

Laid out in a smorgasbord style, the show doesn't invite intimacy with individual artists. There is a group vibe: Italian contemporary artists, unlike, say, their rambunctious British counterparts, desire neither to shock nor provoke. Zaru's group mines the classical Italian past of architecture and painting. Zaru calls her stable "classic." I say she's placing safe bets.

The happy result of that conservativism is that not many works here are bad. The downside: the young artist energy is missing. Still, I liked artist Salvatore Garau's Pontormo-meets-Helen Frankenthaler stained canvas "Il bacio," a large-scale abstraction in red, green and black with the sweeping gestures of Mannerism and the stained-canvas look of the Color School. It's an impressive piece. Garau's other works, some shown in multiples, are somewhat less inspired. Another favorite is the painter Ercole Pignatelli, who depicts oversize still lifes and landscapes with an Henri Matisse-like chunkiness. But the bronze abstractions of sculptor Simon Benetton (of the famous knitwear family) feel uninspired.

Gallery-goers interested in getting to know individual artists a little better can look forward to solos scheduled for the coming months and years, starting with Pignatelli in late December. The artist I most look forward to seeing in depth is Rome-based Giorgio Ortona.

Represented here by five small oils on wood panels, Ortona produces tight, small notebook-page-size schemes of postwar architecture around Rome. Most feature blocky apartment houses from the 1960s and '70s. He paints them in a palette of blanched yellow and orange that seems to nearly obliterate the heaviness such buildings usually carry. Somehow cramped, rectilinear geometries end up feeling airy and Mediterranean. In a curious way, they remind me of Elizabeth Peyton's fey portraits of emaciated rock musicians. Those, too, emphasize delicacy above all else.

Gallery artists at Capricorno Gallery, 2128 P St. NW, Tuesday-Sunday noon-6 p.m., 202-223-1166, to Dec. 16.