The 19th-century painters represented in "Portraits of Places: A Survey of American Landscapes" at the Adams Davidson Galleries, 3233 P St. NW, feel -- as we all do each spring -- for intoxication Nature. But they did not wholly trust her.
Though they hymned her beauties -- her sunsets and mists, trees and streams and mountains -- the pictures that they left us seem in many ways unnatural.
They frequently exaggerate. n Albert Bierstadt's 6-by10-inch picture of a "Mountain Range in Utah" seems part landscape and part opera. A rock is balanced over water, a cold wind swirls the mist, the sun is setting, too, and birds are on the wing. Bierstadt pulls out all the stops. The artist does not wish us to fall into a reverie before Utah's beauty, he wants us to gasp.
The pictures of Ralph Blakelock and Sandord Gifford try to wow us, too. They show us stunning sunsets, spooky shadows, blood-red mists, and moons. They love Nature most when she is most dramatic.
Because they are lovely -- and because we excuse their theatricalities -- they frequently succeed. There is a little luminist Gifford here, "Kauterskill Clove, Adirondacks," that though just six inches high, is strong enough to send a glow across the room.
Many of the pictures here rely on little subplots. The viewer, over-whelmed by vistas, light effects and mists, is repeatedly invited to rest his eyes on little figures. A dozenb Homeresque small boys, in straw hats and suspenders, wander through these landscapes unawed by the sights. Some herd cows or carry fishing poles.
The little people, little cows, little birds and rowboats scattered through these pictures are there to reassure us. When 19th-century painters, and 19th-century viewers, looked on Nature's grandeurs, they felt a note of fear.
Today immune to shock, we see such pictures with nostalgia. Many of the painters here -- Inness, Kensett, David Johnson, Gifford -- were once considered daring. Their paintings have today the soothing, mellow glow of costly, rare antiques.
Few galleries in town could mount such an exhibition. Ted Cooper of Adams Davidson is the closest thing we have to a dealer in Old Masters. Though in the past he offered us some contemporary art, in April he will stop. The only works that he will sell will be those from the past. Thematically his show is a little ragged. His "American Landscapes" includes views of Paris and Mt. Vesuvius; his "Portraits of Places" includes "Mardi Gras, New Orleans," a Glackens sketch of clowns. Still, his show is a pleasure. It closes April 3.
Douglas H. Teller is a senior professor of art at George Washington University. One hopes he is a better teacher than he is a printmaker. His small retrospective, now at the Dimmock Gallery in Lisner Auditorium, is cramped, uncertain, bland.
Teller piles it on. His colors, built of layered inks, are almost always muddy. His images are crowded with a little bit of this and then a little bit of that. Giant flowers, angels, shrouded figures, guns, suns, surreal empty plazas -- he puts into his pictures whatever pops into his mind. "Signs and Alarms," a delicate pencil drawing of 1978, seems to me the nicest picture in his show.
Recent works by H.I. Gates, another art professor at the university, are also on display there. Teller's little prints cannot stand the competition. Gates' objects in the past, particularly his "boxes," although finely made, often seemed to me too cute, too full of silly jokes. His newer wall reliefs are vastly more successful. They are formal, tough and caim.
They're made of odd materials -- old burlap, scavenged steel, rubber tires, bentwood, metal, lathing -- but their varying components are orchestrated well. Gates nicely plays real three-dimensionality against that implied by two dimensional perspective. His assemblages, with their signs and gags and stories, once seemed full of chatter. His new things are much quieter. His materials do the work, and they do it well. The Teller-Gates show closes March 30.
Peter Charies, a professor at West Virginia University whose new works are on view at Henri's, 21st and P Streets NW, combines in his sculptures toughness and high elegance. His materials -- walnut, waxed steel and occasional small stones -- are tied to one another with bent steel rods.
His joinery is special. It brings to mind well-reefed sails,or pelts lashed down with rawhide. There is something pleasing about differing materials that are not glued or nailed, but are only tied. His forms are never messy. He likes squares, 45-degree angles, symmetry and circles, the old Euclidian standbys, and yet his sense of play aerates, somehow softens all that formal order.
His steel, waxed and polished, has the gloss of lacquer work. His wood is rough, untreated. These handsome pieces seem to mix hillbilly directness and Oriental fineness. His exhibition closes April5.
People seem to love Lowell Nesbitt's flower pictures. He paints and sells them at amazing speed. His huge oils, with their sensual images and just-as-sensual surfaces, have a bigness and a confidence that make his smaller lithographs seem a little chintzy.His current show, at Zenith, 1441 Rhode Island Ave. NW, leaves much to be desired. The single oil in it makes the many liuthographs seem thinner than they might alone. But Nesbitt shows us orchids, tulips. roses, lilies, and with spring in the air even unimpressive flower prints are not easy to dislike.