With or without his two Guggenheim grants, Larry Fink is one of the more interesting American photographers now at work. A Larry Fink show closed this week at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, just as another opened here at the Sander Gallery, 2604 Connecticut Ave. NW. His work is also featured in the AT&T sponsored "American Images" show now at the Corcoran.
Fink first attracted attention a decade ago with his biting photographs of the roaring '60s New York art-party scene, near caricatures of decadent chic. His goal was to strip away the glamor to reveal what lurked under the surface raucousness. It turned out to be enough anxiety, ennui and thinly veiled lust to make anyone glad they hadn't been invited.
At their best, those early photographs recalled Daumier, and occasionally Goya in their tilt toward biting social comment. In style however, they were pure Caravaggio -- stark, flashbulb-lit images which sometimes exaggerated the bizarre and, on occasion, invented it. It was a manner widely copied by others and by Fink himself, long after that era had ended.
In the mid '70s, Fink and his family moved to a farm in Martin's Creek, Pa., a poor rural community about as different from Manhattan's haut monde as it could be. He began photographing the local people -- again at parties, weddings, state fairs, or just at play. The early results, however, though he professed great empathy for the people, were hardly distinguishable from the New York work. He continued to shoot when people were least able to defend themselves from the affront of his flashbulb -- bending over in a too-short dress, for instance -- for which he might better have stayed in New York. Several examples in this "manner" are on view at the Corcoran.
The Sander show reveals, however, that Fink seems to be moving out of his rut and on toward expressing the broad range of feelings he perceives in the people of Martin's Creek -- the vitality, love and great tenderness -- between, for example, the looming hulk of a man and his frail, aging father-in-law. The intensity and determination on the face of Jean Sabatine as she carries in the birthday cake she made for her 8-year-old daughter is unforgettable.
There are other wonderful images -- a woman, badly overdressed for a midday wedding, who turns out to be the mother of the bride; the woman underdressed being ogled at the Allentown Fair. One warms to these people as the show goes on, and to their devotion and involvement with each other through November.
Dramatic lighting also plays an integral part in the exhibition of "assembled sculpture" by Georgia artist Susan Harvey, just opened at Gallery 10, 1519 Connecticut Ave. NW. In fact, the dark and shadowy installation is so much a part of the show that one feels uneasy judging the work without turning on the lights.
Ambitious themes of war and religion underly these assemblages which range from small formats to full-size tableaux. Most begin with old wooden boxes -- many of them ammunition crates -- sometimes combined with empty butane tanks, bits of old printed matter and rusted iron grappling hooks. The whole show looks like it might blow up at any minute.
Most impressive is a large tableau which conjures the horrors of a torture chamber, including a screaming head. Harvey gets dangerously literal at times -- as when she pins a battle ribbon on a butane tank and calls it a dead soldier. Overall, however, she has great evocative powers. Through Nov. 24.
Richard Channin, now showing at Henri Gallery, 1500 21st St. NW, makes highly intelligent abstract paintings which become more interesting the longer you look. Based on geometric forms which recall the Mondrian-inspired work of Burgoyne Diller, these compositions combine variouse configurations of hard-edge squares and rectangles with loose, painterly brushstroking within. Though rather bland at first, the color areas soon begin to recede and advance in interesting and surprising ways due to complex overlays and relationships. The palette is unusual, but the work has a quiet integrity.