The WPA's Punk show is inadequately awful. Would that it were worse.
It should be crude and nasty. Instead, it's pretentous. "Punk," writes Alice Denney, gushing in the face of the evidence she's gathered, "is the most energetic and visible art form" of the 70s. With its pseudo-Arbus photographs, its pseudo-Dada gestures, and its pseudo-R. Crumb comics, her show is far from shocking. It is messy and old hat.
Most of the artists represented insist, correctly, that they are not punks. Two, however, entertain with nice unpunklike wit.
One is Steven Kramer, who makes madly motorized destructive metal mice. The other is Bettie Ringma, whose multipart self-portrait (it consists of countless snapshots) may well become famous, for she is pretty as a picture.
Ringma also employs extraordinary props: Bella Abzug, astronauts, Joe Hirshhorn, Angela Davis, Bowery bums and famous punks.She and her partner, scholarly Marc Miller, walk up to celebrities and have their pictures taken. If both of them keep at it, and I hope they will, we will see them slowly age while countless famous figures, and some who are merely odd, pass in review beside them.
At the WPA we see Ringma in the company of Omar Bizarre (who wears a stocking mask and chains), the Deadboys, the Erasers, the Ramones and the Cramps. The Miller-Ringma punk portfolio, "Bettie Visits CBGB," includes 10 such snaps. It is being advertised as "vintage memorabilia." Elaborately packaged in safety-pinned black vinly, it costs just $10.
A Kramer mouse that looks much like a tank, will, the artist claims, wipe out an apartment. "Plug him in and in two hours he completely destroys everything." Another metal rodent, when its switch is thrown, makes an awful racket as it rattles its plastic cage. His piece "You Dirty Rat You" threatens the meek viewer; his "Space Mouse of the Future" is fanjet creature that actually lifts off.
Kramer, the mad scientist, does not seem a punk, nor does Bettie Ringma, though she poses with them. And what self-respecting, or even self-destructive punk could write, as Alice Denney does, that she is dealing "with the social and visual phenomena of the Now." The show is a bore. It closes at WPA, 1227 G St. NW, on June 10.
The small Bonnard and Vuillard show, on view at Adams Davidson, 3233 P St. NW, is being held to benefit the Phillips Collection. To benefit the gallery, the Phillips has in turn lent a dozen Bonnards and Vuillards for this handsome show.
Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) studied together the Academie Julien, were both members of the post-impressionist Naki movement, and for a while shared a studio. They share a great deal, though I much prefer the quieter, more beautiful, paintings of Vuillard.
The colors he uses in his intimate interiors, those cardboard browns, grays and flashes of bright red, are perfect in their subtlety. Bonnard's light, in contrast, often seems to throw a too-bright sunny glare. Bonnard's works confront one, Vuillard's are more polite. His unpretentious housewives often turn their backs and go about their business (they sew, sweep, set the table) as if you were not there. Ted Cooper of Adams Davidson has assembled a complete set of Bonnard's small bronzes. With their echoes of Rodin, Degas, and even of Barye, they seem almost to breathe with the air of Paris. So, too, does this show, which closes June 22.
The Jonathan Meader show at the Plum Gallery, 3762 Howard Ave., Kensington, includes a large number of small drawings, most in pencil,and two new silkscreen prints. One of those, "Reflections," is the best work in the show.
"Many of my works contain roses and night skies and rivers of stars," writes Meader. He also might have mentioned oddly blocky chairs, high bluffs and holes punched into walls. In "Reflections," a flap flowered wallpaper has been pulled from one such wall to reveal a starry sky. The wallpaper is very well done; it looks old, undusted, brittle. Moreover it is green, a color that Meader, who has been unbelievably loyal to blue, has rarely used before. Also on display is a large self-portrait done in pencil that shows the artist with a rhino.
Short Takes: Mark Clark, at Middendorf, 2014 P St, NW, is showing small paintings of big cars - Buicks, one Citroen and many finned Caddies. Though his paint is creamy, all his autos gleam. His paintings, though they have exactly the right scale, are too much alike. One longs for a tree . . . Both William A. Newman and Lisa Brotman once were members of the Washington Color Pencil School. Newman, at Gallery K, 2032 P St., shows hyenas, hummingbirds, the Tin Woodsman. Christ, owls, nudes and more, much more. His collage-like drawings are as one might guess, too crowded. Brotman, at Rebecca Cooper, 2130 P St. NW., THOUGH PERHAPS LESS SKILLFUL, DOES MORE MEMORABLE DRAWINGS. She shows us thrones, trees that look like sundaes, and beast that would look like the Statue of Liberty if were Liberty a lion.
Tom Gilling's handsome paintings, now at Pyramid, 2121 P St. NW, could hardly to more subtle. Complex geometric forms, stabs, cubes and hollow rounded vents, are seen in soft gray twilight. His paintings make one feel one is seeking in the dark. John Stewart, also at the Pyramid, is a photorealist, better than most. The figures in his paintings pose beneath shiny, Frederick's of hollywood satin sheets.