Galleries

By Jessica Dawson
Saturday, April 28, 2007

An abbreviated selection of galleries participating in ColorField.remix, the citywide celebration of the Washington Color School -- the District's most renowned art movement to date.

Finding a Rainbow Within the Clouds

- At Conner, five late 1950s all-over paintings find Howard Mehring at his very best. So-called because they resist a single vantage point, the all-over paintings are cloudlike and soft with an expansive quality that seems to exceed the canvas edges. Gently stippled with paint using eyedroppers on raw canvas that absorbs and diffuses each color, the effect is decentralized and foggy: wallpaper with soul. When gallerist Leigh Conner turned a black canvas around, I learned how painstakingly Mehring worked: A single field of uniform color turns out to be the sum of a rainbow's worth of colors -- not some gray out of a tube. The artist's care paid off.

Howard Mehring at Conner Contemporary Art, 1730 Connecticut Ave. NW, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 202-588-8750, to May 12; connercontemporary.com.

Autopilot Art: It Does Compute

- With his "Remembrancer" installation at Curator's Office, artist Alberto Gaitan does Color School one better. Even as 1960s-era abstractionists sought to obliterate traces of the artist's hand under a flurry of stipples and stains, their gestures were almost always felt. Through a complex series of computer protocols, Gaitan exchanges the artist's intention with that of the machine. Information culled from Internet traffic drives robotic arms that release paint onto three graph-paper-like "canvases" every day. The paintings will be "done" a week before the show closes, so go now to witness his automated paintings in action.

"Alberto Gaitan: Remembrancer" at Curator's Office, 1515 14th St. NW, Wednesday-Saturday noon-6 p.m., 202-387-1008, to May 26; http://www.curatorsoffice.com.

Derivative, but Dazzling

- Though considered more of a Color School disciple than originator, Leon Berkowitz anchors this three-person show with five massive, gloriously colored canvases from 1967-68. Vertical bands of color, a motif worked by Gene Davis and Morris Louis years earlier, assume the otherworldly glory of stained glass with so much luminosity that you forgive Berkowitz his derivative bent. The gallery also hosts two rooms of paintings by erstwhile Washington painter Jason Gubbiotti, now a resident of France, who continues to push the boundaries of abstraction. Where mid-century artists were earnest, Gubbiotti is playful: His paintings climb off the canvas and onto the wall, sit on the floor or wrap around corners. Irreverent titles lend his enterprise a raffish good nature. Also on view: Portia Munson's installation of discarded pink plastic stuff -- mostly old children's toys -- which overflows the walk-in closet-size project space to remind us of our excesses.

Jason Gubbiotti, Leon Berkowitz and Portia Munson at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 202-234-5601, to May 26; http://www.hemphillfinearts.com.

Faded in the Background

- Irvine's nod to "ColorField.remix" hangs in the rear room, where two wan Gene Davis lithographs -- stripes, of course -- hang near a dour 1978 canvas by Color School disciple Willem de Looper. Otherwise, it's gallery business as usual: Selected members of Irvine's stable share wall space with the vintage works, and the gallery's front room showcases the graphic work of Brooklyn-based Oliver Vernon. Presented in single panels and in occasional multiples, Vernon's works betray influences of graffiti, calligraphy and Japanese wood-block prints. Tirelessly hip, Vernon's paintings work hard to please you.

"Oliver Vernon: Macro/Micro" to May 19 and "ColorField Remix" to July 1 at Irvine Contemporary, 1412 14th St. NW, Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 202-332-8767; http://www.irvinecontemporary.com.

Peter Fox at Knew: What a Drip

- New York painter Peter Fox updates mid-century abstraction by giving vertical drips of paint an almost photographic quality. Eschewing the Color School preference for unprimed canvas, Fox seals raw canvas with clear acrylic primer that allows texture to show through as paint hovers on the surface. The effect adds depth and sets the drips -- each is made up of multiple paint colors -- against the canvas in a mini-battle for our attention. Fox's other efforts include canvases that play with font and language -- two include puns on expletives -- in a coarse revision of pop sculptor Robert Indiana (remember the L-O-V-E cube?).

Peter Fox at Knew Gallery, 1639 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 202-338-4588, to May 17; http://www.knewgallery.com.

Drawing Outside His Usual Lines

- A crown prince of the Washington Color School, District-born painter Gene Davis perfected his stripes for decades. On view at Mateyka are a few likable, late canvases offering the lines that fans have come to expect. Art historians, however, will find their meat in the gallery's back room. There, a suite of the artist's early works find Davis in an exploratory mood. These intimate pen-and-ink monochromes on paper from 1952 echo Arshile Gorky's organic forms while revealing Davis's playful side. Also on view: a suite from 1956 that achieves similar whimsy in color. Call them portraits of the artist as a young man. (A review of Davis's show at the Kreeger Museum appears on C1.)

Gene Davis at Marsha Mateyka, 2012 R St. NW, Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., 202-328-0088, to May 12; http://www.marshamateykagallery.com.

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