Mary Beth Edelson, formerly of Washington, now of New York's SoHo, is a kind of priestess. "Inner Space: To Get Us Through," her current exhibition at the Henri Gallery, 21st and P Streets NW, is both feminist and pagan. It is also flawed.
Her power is inadequate, her rituals imperfect. The great goddesses and fire sprites, earth mothers and sacred mounts that she summons to the gallery fail to appear.
That she is a true believer, that she has seen spirits, the viewer does not doubt. But her piety is not enough to bring the show to life. Her beliefs are more compelling than her awkward art. Her drawings, handmade books, photographs and structures have about them something clumsy.
The work that she calls "Sarah's Tent" is supposed to bring to mind miraculous fecundity, but this 11-foot-high sculpture looks like a non-miraculous expanse of black cloth. It does not quite touch the wall. Edelson contends this suggests levitation.It doesn't. She writes that it is "lit with an amber aura." But the viewer who looks through the slit in the black canvas just sees electric lights.
In the front room of the gallery is a low, round wooden altar with her handmade books upon it. There are pads on the floor beside it -- for the comfort of the viewers who are supposed to study the volumes that are offered -- but the altar-table is so close to the wall that one cannot sit down.
Much thought and meditation lies behind this show. The images she offers -- of shrouds and seas and speaking stones -- and the ideas that she suggests -- of incalculable antiquity, barrenness defeated and the aspects of the goddess -- would warrant contemplation if rough-hewn objects and her half-blurred photographs did not get in the way.
Of the things on view, the drawings on the wall and in the books are the most successful because they are most abstract. Edelson is a thinking, serious artist.But her powerful convictions, her deeply held beliefs are considerably stronger than the objects that express them. Her show closes Feb. 8.
Tom Green's new black-and-white paintings, now at the Jack Rasmussen Gallery, 313 G St. NW, speak with many voices. Are they line drawings or paintings? Are they diagrams or landscapes, flat or three-dimensional?Ambiguous and elusive, they are all these things at once.
They are very simply made with black lines on white canvas, yet when the viewer starts to read them their simplicity dissolves. At first glimpse they resemble, say, madcap wiring diagrams, but then their lines start moving. Deep spaces close and open, symmetries break down, and then, quite unexpectedly, these works fill up with images -- of birds, bones, figures, leaves, fish and eyes.
Fans of pattern painting will enjoy Green's work. Those who can't bear abstract art will find stories in these pictures. There is an unsuspected energy within them, they keep on keeping on. Green's impressive show closes Feb. 3.
Illustrator Frank E. Schoonover (1877-1972) thought the role of pictures was "to tell a story memorable and strong." He practiced what he preached. For more than half a century he published stirring images of Indians at war, knights in shining armor, pirates, damsels in distress, Canadian Mounties, cowboys. The subjects of his illustrations were the stuff of young boys' dreams.
A good selection of his oils, and a smattering of his publications (Schoonover illustrated more than 200 books), are now on display at the Montrose Gallery, 7800 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda.
One of Howard Pyle's students, he studied in Chadds Ford, as did his more famous (and more gifted) colleagues N. C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish. The pictures on display are full of action, stealth, suspense.
The figures here are famous -- Lincoln thinks deep thoughts, Blackbeard behaves badly, Heidi tends her goats, Aladdin rubs his lamp, and, of course, the Mounty always gets his man. If the "Golden Age of Illustration" is today far behind us, it is, at least in part, because television has tarnished it. Schoonover's Hopalong Cassidy -- named Hopalong because he hopped along; one leg was shorter than the other -- didn't stand a chance when he entered battle with TV's pompous William Boyd.
The so-called "Brandywine Tradition," thanks to the Wyeth family's fame, has been much discussed of late. The Schoonover exhibit puts it in perspective. This is low art and high fun.The show closes Feb. 16.
The Art Barn Association's Second Annual Invitational Exhibit, at 2401 Tilden St. NW in the midst of Rock Creek Park, is a sparse but well-selected show of local sculpture.
Leonard Cave's rough-hewn sculpture with its comfy, clumpy charm; Yuri Schwebler's mathematically determined tepees in which stones have been suspended; and Genna Watson's suffering hyena, are among the strongest works displayed. John Dickson, V. V. Rankine, Linda Swick, Nade Haley, Jennie Lea Knight, John McCarty and Eric Rudd are the other artists showing. The exhibit closes Jan. 28.
Government Services Savings and Loan, 7200 Wisconsin Ave., has brought to Bethesda another admirable show. This one is devoted to the well-made graphics printed with, and published by, Tyler Graphics, Ltd. Ken Tyler, who worked for a decade as Gemini's director, is a most accomplished printer. The present show includes silkscreens and lithographs, some large, some small, some three-dimensional, some on handmade paper, by Josef Albers, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, William Crutchfield and Robert Motherwell. It closes April 14