Washington has a budding new art scene, and its unofficial opening to the public will take place from 6 to 8 tonight at Diane Brown's sculpture space, two flights up at 52 O St. NW, overlooking Dunbar High School.
The occasion is a preview of new work by Jim Sanborn, the first solo show to be held in this vast and handsome space, previously open by appointment only.
This show establishes the first regular gallery hours (12 to 5 Thursday and Friday, 12 to 6 Saturday, through Feb. 29), affording a close look at this former warehouse now transformed into studios for 15 artists by sculptor-owner Eric Rudd.
It also establishes Jim Sanborn as a major Washington sculptor.
Sanborn's metal sculpture has been seen in Washington before, in an early solo at WPA, and in two Corcoran area shows. He has had no fewer than three exhibitions at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, and recently completed major commissions for Charleston, W. Va., and the City of Baltimore. He has been artist-in-residence at Glen Echo Park for several years, where he has established a bronze foundry.
But in this show Sanborn has moved into a new medium for him -- sandstone (ranging from white to beige, golden yellow and red) which he found in a cluster of quarries in Ohio. Since then, by meticulously cutting and stacking these stones, he has produced a highly expressive body of work that conjures elemental geological forces. He calls these works "Sedimentary Constructions." Some look like geological cutaways.
For example, in "Butte Valley, Butte Valley, Butte" small stones seem to erupt from the center of three jagged, volcano-shaped stacks of stone. And, conversely, in "Shifted Canyon Filled," smaller stones seem to have fallen into -- and filled -- a canyonlike "V."
In each case movement has been implied by the sensitive placement of the stones, emulating the way they would have fallen in nature, and thus arousing in the viewer an empathy with, and understanding of, that movement. It is no surprise to discover that Sanborn has spent many a summer climbing among the chasms and canyons of the West.
Sanborn has also made two pieces that deal with lightning and tornado forms, implying the interaction of stone and weather. "Magnetic North" provides another format, a semicircular mound of gray stone laid out on the floor and converging at a central point. The sense of specific place is here reinforced by a scattering of green quartz, suggesting ice.
Throughout, Sanborn has exploited the possibilities inherent in the profile, shadow, color and texture of the stones to heighten impact. In "Landslide Canyon," the final work in the series, he has also captured the sense of an ancient, crumbling wall. "After all," he says, "a wall is nothing more than stacked stones transformed into architecture."
In his work he has transformed stones into art of a very high order.
"Glen Echo Park is the best thing that ever happened to me," says Sanborn, one of several artists who have had rent-free space at the arts park in suburban Maryland, and have thus been able to work on large, ambitious new projects in exchange for teaching classes at minimal cost.
It just happens that while Sanborn is getting downtown exposure at Diane Brown's, Glen Echo is getting some of the same in a modest show installed in the lobby of the GSA building at 18th and F streets NW.
The show is a sampler designed to draw attention to the increasingly high quality of the artists-in-residence who teach ceramics, drawing, enameling, fiber, painting, photography, printing, sculpture, silverware, stained glass and woodworking there. The writing workshops, Dance Theater and resident Adventure Theater are also represented.
Though the real point is to lure visitors and students to Glen Echo, there are some impressive works on view, among them Lea Feinstein's delicate collage, spectacular potlike ceramic sculpture by Raya Bodnarchuk, silverwork by Susan Tamulevich and pit-vessels in clay by Jeff Kirk.
Glen Echo's "Photoworks," one of its strongest departments, is well-represented by the work of Rhoda Baer, Frank Herrera and Mimi Levine, who have inspired many an area photo buff to take the medium seriously. Have a look if you're in the neighborhood. Otherwise, proceed directly to Glen Echo.
Robert A. Nelson's first Washington show at Bader, 2001 Eye St. NW, gives the impression of tremendous energy kept under a bushel for too long. He is, in fact, widely known as a master printmaker everywhere but here.
A teacher of art at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Nelson makes drawings, collages and lithographs that deal with amusing but baffling images that cross a whimsical surrealism with science fiction. Fat pigeons have lightbulbs attached; a giant pooch standing in for Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead, guards the gates of Hell while munching on plugged-in lambchops.
None of it makes much sense, beyond the obvious puns in "Repair Shop," in which giant mice work on a mechanical cat, or "Light Load," portraying a rat hauling tools and flashlights. The mastery of the drawing and the exuberance of his imagination, however, make Nelson's work most seductive.
A series of small watercolors based on themes like "Warm September Afternoon" and "On a Winter Window" -- all frosty with crystalline blue -- are among the most evocative works. The show ends Feb. 9.
In the continuing saga of the shatering of the art scene on the P Street Strip, Jem Hom of Hom Gallery, now at 2121 P. St., has just revealed that he has purchased a three-story town house around the corner at 2103 O St. NW and will move as soon as renovations are complete.