Galleries traditionally use summer months to try out new talent and introduce artists who will solo later in the year. As an hors d'oeuvre to the upcoming winter feast, several such group shows are being served up all over town. The new show at Fendrick Gallery, 3059 M St. NW, tops them all.
Barbara Fendrick has a sharp and wide-ranging eye for new talent, and this show, "Contradictions," includes paintings and sculpture from all over the country, many by artists with national reputations who have not shown here before.
There are sharp contrasts, notably between the elegance of the flawless, Brancusi-like bronze "Portrait of a Goose" by John Dreyfuss and the raw emotional wallop of Genna Watson's decomposed figure of sticks, chicken-wire and rags. Both artists are from Washington and point up the extraordinary range of good work currently produced here.
But most of the other artists are realists for whom "Enigmatic Realism" might have made a good alternative title for this show. Painters and sculptors alike have replaced the cold, machine-made geometry of the '60s with highly personal, meticulourly hand-crafted work that is often eye- and mind-boggling.
In that respect, the show resembles the "Directions" exhibition now at the Hirshhorn, particularly the section called "imitations," which points up the continuation of the 19th-century American trompe l'oeil tradition in contemporary art.
Alan Kessler, for example, is represented in both shows with what appear to be assemblages of old tools arranged in wooden boxes. It turns out, however, that these are neither tools nor old, but are, in fact, carved balsa wood painted to look like old wood and rusted metal. Only the frame wood box is a real "found" object.
The problem in Kessler's work is that the switch on what's real and what isn't cannot be perceived without touching, and that is verboten. Since there is no content beyond the trickery, the viewer is left with a visual one-liner.
But if hands-on is crucial to Kessler fool-the-eye sculpture, Paul Sarkisian's virtuoso painting of an empty organic fertilizer bag leaves the eye with no questions at all. The image leaps off the paper. (For old-fashioned trompe l'oeil and an interesting comparison, see the current show of 19th-century American still-life at Adams Davidson, 3233 P St. NW.)
Two other painters starring in this show are more interested in fooling the mind than the eye, and they do it superbly.
James Valerio of Los Angeles is represented by two large paintings, one from 1973 showing his wife and son Paul in a perfectly ordinary dining room, except that something strange seems to be happening with a Magritte-like black hat.
In a recent tour de force of realist painting called "Paul's Magic," magic emerges more clearly both as subject and mood, as Paul kneels in a rocky landscape, oblivious to the magician and a levitating woman standing behind him. In the very realistic setting of woods and rocks, fish seem to swim without benefit of water. It is a spell-binding visual paradox.
Somewhat less spell-binding, though still fascinating, is the work of Donald Roller Wilson, who manufactures enigma in outrageous scenarios which look like sets for a theater of the absurd.
In "The Destruction of a White House on the Plains," for example, a monkey in a satin dress tends a baby carriage which holds a skull. Staring straight at us, the monkey also holds a duck on a leash. The duck is smoking and so are several half-concealed sticks of dynamite, lending more than just a hint of impending disaster, while a tornado wrecks the "White House" in the background. Could this be our White House? We can only guess and guess some more, which is clearly the artist's goal.
There is much more in this fascinating show, all of it suggesting a first-rate season to come. It continues through August 18, and the gallery is open Mondays through Fridays, 10 to 5:30, and closed Saturdays after today, when it will be open 10 to 2.
Henri Gallery, 1500 21st St. NW has its usual assortment of surprises, from an abstract painting with the paint literally slipping off in a big blob, to the reed-and-wood "traps" for birds and lobsters by Gerry Griffin. Happily unworkable, these traps make handsome sculpture. A huge altarpiece-like construction, glorifies -- tongue-in-cheek -- "The Virtues of Work" with an assemblage of brooms, shovels and photographs of Mao. Through August.
Cramer Gallery, a new kid on the block at 2035 P St., is closing a group show today that includes two fine new lithographs by James Sundquist and a sculpture by Nizette Brennan, who has an interesting way with marble, obviously derived in part from an internship with Isamu Noguchi.
Jack Rasmussen, 313 G St. NW is showing paintings and sculpture by 10 artists, some new and some well known, with David Station, Ed Zerne and Marianne LaRoche featured. Through July 28.
The Washington Women's Arts Center, 1821 Q St. NW has a show of "New Faces" selected by Starmanda Bullock, gallery director at Howard University. Though she had some rank amateurs to deal with, she found good work by Roslyn Cambridge, Kathleen Sharp, April Faye, and photographers Maria Caravella, Molly Roberts, "Zinnia." Most professional were the etchings of Deborah w. de Bruyn, water-colors by Jean Morgan George C. Koch. Through Agust 4. CAPTION: Picture, Detail from "The Destruction of a White House on the Plains," By Donald Roller Wilson