The realist exhibit at Middendorf/Lane, 2014 P St. N.W, could not have been hung here in the speedy go-go '60s. It pulls something into focus that we have sensed, but not seen clearly. An exhibition tied to the last years of the '70s, it is, for Washington at least, a crystallizing show.
There are eight local artists in it, all of them accomplished. They have very different, sometimes clashing personalities, yet their exhibit as a whole ie eerily coherent. What unifies their work is not subject matter, style, fashio or technique, but something more elusive, a mood of concentration, an attitude toward time.
Four of them - Rebacca Davenport, Joseph White, Mark Clark and Val Lewton - show paintings, and though the Lewtons here seem ragged, all of them can paint. The other four - Manon Cleary, John Grazier, Kevin MacDonald and James Sundquist - exhibit works on paper, and all of them can draw. None attempts to shock us. Patience rules their show.
One feels it in their handiwork, in the details of the Davenport, the cross-hatchings of Grazier, MacDonald's subtle pencil work, White's glazes, Clearys' shadings. Their pictures aren't experiments. All eight work their surfaces slowly and with care.
Another sort of patience is apparent in their art. They do not trust shortcuts; none of them attempts to leap into the future. Instead they seem content with a gradual maturing, as if they have agreed to accept, and maintain, the standards of the past.
Because these artists all are local, a portrait of this city, and of its inhabitants, is conjured by their show. We see Schwartz's drugstore, night on 17th Street, bridges much like those that span the Potomac, a bushel of Bay crabs. The faces, too, for many will be at least half-familiar. It so happens that I know all the couples posing in Cleary's lovely drawings. It is a little weird to see them naked in the gallery, then glimpse them on the street.
Though most of these artists (Grazier is an exception) work from photographs, none are photo-realists. They don't make antiseptic pictures. Despite the high attention that they pay to craft, their various personalities seep up through their art.
The vastly overworked abstraction-representation schism is not an issue in this show. White was once an abstract painter, MacDonald turns the walls he draws into airy, open fields. Throughout this show one falls an aura of inclusion. These artists have been scouring Washington's museums, and they have learned from what they've seen.
Though this city is best known for its abstract artists, that may not remain true. Chris Middendorf and Palmer Lane, the newly married dealers who put this show together, set themselves a challenge: Select the finest realists working in this city (of the eight they picked, only two are in their stable), and see if the resulting show can complete in quality with those of the museums. The viewer will be pleased at how well they have succeeded. This is a show we will remember. Its quality is high. It closes Oct. 20.
Protetch-McIntosh, 2151 P St. NW., is showing the new color paintings of Washington's Willem de Looper. De Looper has exhibited often in the past, but never has he offered us a show as fine as this.
His paintings are composed of rectangles and squares and broad bands of deep color. No longer does he paint the soft horizon-horizontals that gave his works a mood of mist and sea and landscape. A number of those pictures seemed to drift off toward the pretty. His new ones seem, in contrast, sure and tough and right.
One feels a locked correctness in the proportions of his forms, their surfaces, their tones, and the way their melting edges let in air and light. But it is most of all the colors that one remembers from this show. The ones he has chosen are not plastic or electric. Instead he uses earth tones, and blues, browns and blacks. Their beauty seems akin to that one senses before landscape. These paintings feel like windows that admit earth sky, the night, the sea. They will remain on view through Oct. 5.
The Franz Bader Gallery, 2124 Pennsylvaia Ave. NW, is showing recent sculpture by Washington's Berthold Schmutzhart. A man of many skills, he works with poplar, cherry, walnut, birch, mahogany and elm, steel, brass and plastic.I wish I liked his whimsy as much as I appreciate his admirable craft.
But his breasted birds, sometimes packed into sardine cans, sometimes turning into warships, are at bottom silly. One wishes that the artist would reach for the holy, for something that exalts, and does not merely entertain. Schmutzhardt is too gifted to be fastened to the cute. His exhibition closes on Sept. 30.
Ed Mayo's pleasing painted sequences, at Diane Brown, 2028 P St. NW, recall those little books whose pages we would flip as kids until their pictures seemed to more. Each group of his small pictures tells a story that unfolds both in space and time. As the viewer's eye moves from one scene to the next, mists roll over Tennessee, trees appear and vanish, or black clouds hide the stars until white lightning flashes on an aird hill. A miniaturist of sorts, Mayo has given us an entertaining and unpretentious show. It closes on Oct. 12.
Wayne L. Paige, at Gallery K, 2032 P St. NW, displays pun-filled horror stories in pictures that he rightly notes "resemble crushed tavern trays." His stars, "a chump and a blond starlet," confront assorted monsters, giant Q-tips, for example, highrise-eating warts, crawling combination locks, hens in parachutes and severed toes from outer space. Paige likes whacky puns - "Aqualips Apocalypse," "Arm A Gettin." One imagines that he paints these things in a state of high amusement, emitting as he does so gurgles, squeaks and yuks. There are many mansions in the house of art.
The new works by Washington's Nancy Palmer, now at Jack Rasmussen's, 313 G St. NW, have a lot in common with the "pattern paintings" that were, at least last year, so talked-of in New York. Her all-over abstractions are full instead of empty, rich instead of bleak. They look as if they were conceived while focusing of fabrics, on carpets, quilts and tweeds, while musing at the same time on snowfalls, rivers, flowers, rocks and clouds. Her paintings have withing them a kind of droning repetition, as if each are and X and O she paints has somehow cloned its neighbors. Her colors are pleasing, but her exhibition as a whole seems undisciplined, too loose.
The gallery is also showing the drawings of Jaime Romano, who once studied here at American University. His drawings, which combine ruled pencil lines and arcs with charcoal smeared just so, are works of hollow elegance that seem to bow the Barnett Newman, the New York abstract expressionists, and to the by-now-boring chic of official abstract art. The Palmer-Romano show closes on Oct. 7.