CONSIDER THESE art stars: Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, pop Artist Roy Lichtenstein, abstract expressionists Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, modernist sculptors Alexander Calder and Seymour Lipton, minimalist Ellsworth Kelly, Washington color painters Tom Downing and Sam Gilliam, realists David Hockney and Fairfield Porter, connoisseur Bernard Berenson, 16th-century Italian printmaker Annibale Carracci and photo-realist Richard Estes.
Question: What do they have in common?
Answer: Yesterday, in Washington, all of them were starring in temporary shows.
The situation changed a little bit this morning. The Downing show has closed. It will change again tomorrow when the Phillips Collection's Franz Kline show, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's Richard Estes retrospective, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art's Johns-Kelly-Lichtenstein-Rauschenberg-de Kooning 35th Biennial all will be taken down.
For people who like art shows, and feel they really ought to see all of the important ones, the pressure will diminish-but only for a while. When, in a few weeks, "Frank Stella in the '70s" opens at the Corcoran, and "Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings 1944-1969" goes on view in Baltimore, and a loan show of Old Masters from the Hermitage in Leningrad, one a leonardo, begins a brief visit to the National Gallery of Art, the demands on their time again will intensify.
Is Washington an art center? From anyone who tries to see everything this spring-Calder, Kline, de Kooning, Leonardo, Lichtenstein, Hockney, Estes, Rauschenberg and Grandma Moses, too-the only honest answer will be a tired yes.
There is more good art displayed here than single viewer has the time to see.
The hardiest observer, with comfy shoes, strong feet, immunity to headache, and no daytime job, will be hard pressed to keep up with the temporary shows in Washington's museums. No doubt he'll have to bypass their permanent collections. He will have little time left over for concerts, ballet, lectures, poetry or movies or the Shakespeare plays and playoffs broadcast on TV.
Love art as he might, where will he find the time, the energy, the interest, for the countless smaller shows offered to the public by the city's commercial galleries? Chances are he won't.
For this city's living artists, and for the harried dealers who try to sell their products, the first-rate exhibitions endlessly provided by Washington's museums present a bit of a mixed blessing. It is hard enough to paint, and then to find a dealer, and then to get a show. Few galleries will offer the artists in their "stables" solo exhibitions more frequently than once every two years.
Painters only sell their works if their works are seen. Imagine how you'd feel if you were a painter, and at last your time came round, and you found you were competing-not just with your local peers, not just with the offerings, photographs and pots and textiles and bronzes, of a hundred other galleries, not just with the Bard and the NBA-but with Frank Stella, David Hockney, and Leonardo, too.
The art audience in Washington, if one excludes the tourists, might number a few thousand loyal, curious souls. Their finances are limited. So, too, is their time.
Should they buy old or new? A few years ago in Washington they did not have much choice. Old art was not sold here, but that's no longer true. Harry Lunn, in Georgetown, who once dealt in modern prints, now sells vintage photographs to the tune of more than $1 million a year. Ted Cooper of Adams Davidson, another Georgetown gallery, once supported living artists, but is about to stop. His current exhibition, of new work by Bill Dunlap, will be the dealer's last contemporary show. In the future he will offer only prospering in Washington as they ne he will offer only older works.Auction houses, too, are prospering in Washington as they n of them antiques, at Sloan's last major sale together fetched a total of more than $1 million-money that might otherwise have helped out some producer of contemporary art.
Not so very long ago working artists here competed with each other-for time as well as sales. That is nolonger true. Old art in museums, in galleries and salesrooms, is attracting more attention, as well as more money, than it ever has before.These are, in many ways, testing days for artists who are trying to make a living. The competition offered by top-of-the-line objects-from Leningrad and Florence, from New York and the past-has never been so stiff.
"It is tr ue that fine museums confront working artists with a kind of competition," says Abram Lerner, director of the Hirshhorn, whose museum has been offering temporary shows by Estes, Hockney, Calder, all three of them at once, "but it can only help. I fashion my thinking from a lifetime of experience in the art world in New York. Thirty-five years ago there were, all told, no more than five galleries in Manhattan that handled American art. Then the art scene there grew to enormous dimensions. The museums did not squeeze out the artists or the commericial galleries. That's not the way it works. They supported one another. Museums learn from artists, and artists from museums. When the dealers started showing the new New York painting, the museums in the city were not far behind. As soon as the museums began to forage thoughtfully through 18th-band 19th-century American art history, the dealers, on their own, began to forage, too. Artists shouldn't take the Corcoran's display of new works by Johns, de Kooning, or our Estes show, or our Hockney exhibition, just as competition. They should see them as a challenge. It is inspiring for artists to look at good art."
Lerner's hirshhorn, a national museum, employs local painters, Joe Shannon, for example, and occasionally acquires pictures in the city. It just bought an oil, from the Studio Gallery, by Washington's Peter DeAnna. But Lerner says he feels the support of local art "is more the Corcoran's domain."
The Corcoran agrees. Though this spring it is exhibiting works by well-known out-of-towners-Kelly, Lichtenstein, Johns, de Kooning, Rauschenberg, and Stella, most of them New Yorkers-it also has just hired Clair List, 25, a curator who will work full-time on local art.
Artists learn from art. They do not work in a vacuum. The painters of this city have, from the beginning, learned from museum shows. When color painter Kenneth Noland first moved to this city, he began to imitate the pictures by Paul Klee that he saw at the Phillips. Duncan Phillips' core concern with color had a subtle and profound effect on the development of the Washington Color School. There are artists in this city who, in recent years, have started quoting in their works from piero, Gilbert Stuart, Rembrandt, Cezanne, and the treasures of King Tut.
The five gifted local draftsmen now exhibiting their drawings at Gallery K, all have seen, and learned from, first-rate older art. The spring of '79 is not an easy time for local artists, but it is a time of promise. Portraiture, figure drawing, even oil painting, are thriving in this city as they never have before, in part because the artists here have taken up a challenge. They no longer try to grab us with mere innovation. Instead they have discovered that the only way tomeet the competition offered by the art of the museums is to go for substance, for honestyand quality, to master, in their own new work, the high, unchanging standards of the highest art.