"A Capital View," the current exhibition at Union Station, will bring both pain and pleasure to those who have long memories. It is, in many ways, a crummy little show, so poorly hung and framed and lit that it appears to cower in that once distinguished, now desecrated hall. What saves it are its photographs. They are a treat.
The oldest were taken during World War I; the newest are contemporary. Monumental Washington -- as it was and is -- is the subject of this show.
All the photographs were made with an Eastman Cirkut Camera, a marvelous combination of lenses, springs and clockwork gears that produces panoramas. Beside its finely detailed 10-inch-by-4 foot pictures, normal snapshots look as if they had been photographed through blinders.
The old pictures are revealing. On Constitution Avenue, where the National Gallery of Art now stands, a billboard used to advertise Coca-Cola for a nickel. The stern greensward of the Mall years ago was softened by shrubs and oval pathways. The District Building now looks just the way it used to in the 1920s, though of course the cars have changed. In 1915, there was not a single member of the Washington Motorcycle Club who did not wear a hat.
The old photographs of presidents, policeman, monuments and markets were taken by the Schutz brothers, a pair of local commercial photographers long since out of business. Woodrow Landay, 21, and Mark Segal, 22 -- whose father, Ed Segal, inherited some 9,000 Schutz brothers negatives -- produced the contact prints. The pictures they exhibit must not be taken in at once; one should view them slowly, much as one might read a unwound Oriental scroll. Segal and Laday took the modern panoramas, some of them in color, which complete the show. It will remain on view at the National Visitors Center at Union Station through Sept. 21.
Better late than never, the State Departments Art in Embassies program has come to the conclusion that some photographers are artists and some photographs are art. A group of black-and-white photographs by Lindsey Grant, a retired foreign service officer, soon will join the paintings, statutes, prints and drawings on display in our embassies abroad. To commemorate the breakthrough, a selection of Grant's prints have been placed on exhibition in the Department's diplomatic lobby, 22nd and C Streets NW.
His pictures will shock no one, Images of weathered barns, front porch rocking chairs, purple mountains majesties, birds, snow, and gnarled driftwood, they are conventionally picturesque. They will remain on view through early October.
The Venezuelan screen prints now on exhibition at the Organization of American States, 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW., are decorative and colorful. What sets them apart from others is the fact that they are printed not on paper, but on finely-woven silk.
Why? Because Cabalto, a textile firm in Caracas, would like "to demonstrate the possibilities of the application of fine art to textile design and thus raise the standards of quality in the field." They have, I think, succeeded. The prints -- by Alejandro Otero, Gego, Carlos Cruz Diez, Jesus Rafael Soto and their collegues -- look handsome on the wall and would look as nice as scarves. The sculptures of Venezuala's Lia Bermudez, who attaches rods of metal -- one to another -- are also are on view. Both shows close Sept. 21.
The plight of Washington's small non-profit art groups is painful to consider: They are usually broke; they often snarl at one another; they are frequently evicted from their underequipped studios; they must beg and scuffle just to keep alive. But they have a friend in MOTA, the Museum of Temporary Art at 1206 G St. NW. MOTA scuffles, too, and soon will be evicted by its landlord, the District government, but still fights the good fight. MOTA publishes Art Ink, a worthly little newspaper designed to give a voice to the many groups -- MOTA has identified 200 -- struggling in town.
A dozen such organizations -- dance troupes, theater groups, small schools, galleries -- now survive precariously in government-owned buildings that will soon be demolished for a "revitalized" downtown. The carefully considered scheme by architect Richard Ridley sketched in the summer issue of Art Ink offiers an alternative to what MOTA describes as "the soul-less sterility embodied in K Street-style development."
Ridley's plan for the neighborhood of 13th and G Streets NW calls for the retention of the area's few worthwhile buildings, for huge glassed-in arcades, for new hotels, apartments, for offices and stores. It also provides space for experimental theaters, galleries and lofts. One wishes the developers now carving up downtown had Ridley's imagination.
MOTA has its act together. One wishes one could say the same of all the groups it servces. If you send $1 to MOTA, they will send you a copy of Art Ink in return.