By mark jenkins
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Gallery summer group shows may have roughly the same motivation ---- filling the space during a slow season for sales ---- but they take many forms. Some revisit earlier exhibitions, while others feature work that’s new or just didn’t fit into previous lineups. Overarching themes are not required but can be ambitious. Thus, Hemphill Fine Arts’ “Artist--Citizen, Washington DC,” in which eight artists and two collectives enter the civic realm.
That realm is broadly defined. Local folk artist Mingering Mike drew child--like portraits of the members of the D.C. Council, while Max Hirshfeld made glossy portraits of area arts--world dignitaries (or at least they look like dignitaries in these somber photographs). James Huckenpahler executed a series of prints of simple gray shapes, including “Carl Rowan’s Butt” ---- a reference, surely, to the butt of the unregistered gun the journalist used to wound a teenage trespasser in 1988.
Workingman Collective undertook a hand--shaking (and fist--bumping) tour of the city, video--recording the process in front of such landmarks as Ellington School, Eastern Market and the MLK Library. The excursion has been edited to a highlight reel that runs a mere eight hours. Even more collectively, free[space]collective has assembled ---- and is still assembling ---- a crowdsourced, D.C.--shaped grid of snapshots, with new ones hung atop earlier ones on the section of the map that corresponds to the photo’s location. Franz Jantzen also photographed multiple images, but all of one place: the D.C. Barber Center, shown in a kaleidoscopic collage of some 400 frames.
Julie Wolfe returns to one of the themes of her recent Hemphill show with “Local Source ---- H2O,” a set of local water samples that’s a dystopian sci--fi thriller in everyday glass containers. And Anne Rowland revisits her childhood neighborhood with an outraged, hilarious critique of the mega--neo--mansions recently built in McLean and Great Falls. If the personal is political, these grandiose, dysfunctional structures are calling artist--citizens to take to the streets (or, more likely, cul--de--sacs).
There are familiar names and images in “Summer Splash II,” which includes pieces shown recently by Robert Brown Gallery or Neptune Fine Art, the two galleries that share a townhouse and this combined show. Picasso, Braque and Matisse are the superstars in the selection, mostly of prints but with paintings, photographs and sculpture as well. Brown is also showing a few Chinese advertising posters from the early 20th century that promote products both ordinary (Sun--Maid Raisins) and baffling (Dr. Williams Pink Pills for Pale People). Their style melds art deco and traditional Chinese illustration so deftly that the results are not merely quaint.
While most of these are works on paper, a few boast a scale more often associated with paintings. Two Fifo Stricker watercolors depict impossibly stacked piles of books, each more than four feet high; they’re dazzlingly precise for watercolor, which is usually employed for more impressionistic effects. Nearby is the much looser “Bahamas,” Jennifer Bartlett’s pastel triptych of ocean, sky and palms, whose vigorous crosshatching suggests turbulent weather. The most towering work is William Kentridge’s seven--foot--high “Telephone Lady,” rendering a surrealist phone--headed woman in sumptuous black and white.
Works by mid--century modernists reveal various lesser--known aspects of their styles. Helen Frankenthaler’s “Flirt,” a 1995 screenprint, resembles the color--field canvases for which she’s known but also traditional Chinese ink paintings. Along with Ellsworth Kelly’s simple outline prints of fruits and flowers is “Blue, Yellow, Red,” a lithograph that arrays the three primary colors in unexpected proportions. Whether working with line or color, Kelly shows a born printmaker’s gift for finding the essential image
At Marsha Mateyka, the current show reprises Gene Davis’s “Concord,” a visual dance between red and black lines that the gallery showed a year ago. This time, the 1982 stripe painting is paired with a smaller, multicolored one made about two decades earlier, as well as two Davis ink paintings from the 1950s.
That’s the concept of “Then and Now: Early and More Recent Works by Nancy Wolf, William T. Wiley, Sam Gilliam, Gene Davis,” which also features work by three of the gallery’s other artists. So Gilliam’s “Tempo,” very 1960s with its square format and precise oblique bands of color, is paired with 2008’s “Repeating Green Slice,” whose lush, liquid hues swirl across multiple panels. The Washington Color School influence shown in the earlier work is dramatically transformed.
Wiley’s four contributions showcase his distinctive mix of abstract painting, cartoonish drawing, social commentary and personal wordplay. Two highly horizontal etchings suggest Chinese ink paintings with a hint of “Krazy Kat,” the early 20th--century comic strip. Equally idiosyncratic are two 1970 etchings by Wolf, which contrast stripes of bright, pure color with strings of banal cars or houses.
Ceramics are the core curriculum at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, whose “Heat Wave” includes such elegantly glazed pieces as Lauren Mabry’s porcelain cylinders (not exactly bowls) and David Hicks’s seemingly organic terra cotta bulbs. Among the other striking clay--based works are two Linda Lopez creations, that feature hundreds of strands that appear to be soft and dangling. Their form suggests the term “moptops” ---- although that makes the objects sound messy when, in fact, they’re immaculately made.
Also included are paintings, photographs and an intriguing sculptural collage, Lauri Menditto’s “888888,” which joins dozens of that number, all cut from license plates. Among the photos are John Cole’s “Cannery Wall,” from battered--facade close--ups the gallery showed last month; and Maxwell Mackenzie’s vast image of vast Minnesota sky and prairie, punctuated by a single house. The latter is one of many images of the natural world in “Heat Wave,” a selection that features trees, flowers and clouds but also an array of metallic surfaces, whether shiny or exquisitely fatigued.