"The Washington Color School Revisited," the new show at Fendrick Gallery, is like the revival of a bad play by a good author.
More artifact than art, it includes mostly mediocre paintings by Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Tom Downing, Howard Mehring and Sam Gilliam, all dating from the '60s.
Though it offers more historical than visual interest, the show does serve to remind how Washington art has blossomed since the early '60s -- how vital and diverse its artists and their art have become. The Color Painters, to be sure, put Washington on the world art map. But they couldn't have done it with these paintings. The show has a lean and dated look, and what it really celebrates is the resale market. And why not? This is a commercial gallery after all.
There are a few good paintings -- notably a 1960 blue stripe by Morris Louis, and top-notch examples by two of the lesser-known artists of the group -- Paul Reed and Leon Berkowitz. Reed's "Zig-field A" from 1967, a shaped canvas, is as bold and self-confident as anything he has made. The Berkowitz -- the only oil in this sea of acrylics -- is from the artist's 1965 "Chasubel Series," and has an uncanny glow as the stripes vibrate forward and backward. It is a masterful exercise in the use of color as color, and one of the few that takes more than a minute to see.
The show continues through Oct. 4, and an essay by Leslie Judd Ahlander lends perspective. While there, don't miss the Frankenthaler prints upstairs, concurrently on view at the Phillips Collection.
Elie Abrahami, who has been seen only once in Washington -- at the International Monetary Fund -- is having his first commercial show of prints and watercolors at the Gage Gallery, 3019 M St. NW.
At the request of the gallery's owner, Gary Evans, the Paris-based artist made several small watercolors that could be reasonably priced for the gallery's growing clientele of beginning graphics collectors. These small workers are among the most enticing in this, the artist's first commercial gallery show in Washington. His work also was exhibited last year at the International Monetary Fund.
Born a Jew in Iran, and educated in Israel and Paris, Abrahami's work looks very European, but with a special twist. In the small watercolor called "Statue in Nature," for example -- and throughout the show -- he combines both cubist and surrealist elements into his own highly personal statement.
In this work -- which somewhat resembles a cubist sculpture coming apart -- visual energies flow from the fact that the parts seem to fly away from their center, propelled by an unseen power. This is true in several works where ladders, clocks, hats, plants -- or at least they seem to be plants -- combine and levitate, arousing psychic energies. What is going on? What are these things? Sometimes the titles help, sometimes not.
Abrahami's subjects cover a broad range, from the witty color etching entitled "Bull" (the bull is barely visible behind several barrels) to the dead-serious trio of black and white etchings called "Locust." Here a group of figures drifts through time, past fragments of spears, helmets and armor (signifying the Holocaust, the artist tells us) until -- diminished both in numbers and spirit -- they no longer can see what goes on around them, but only within.
Because Abrahami is still exploring several modes of expression at once, his results are uneven. But he is an artist of depth and great skill, which adds to his burden of resisting the facile. The show continues through Oct. 12.
Plum Gallery 2 at Charlie's Georgetown, 3223 K St. NW, is a restaurant lobby to be taken seriously. While 12 new paintings and 10 new sculptures by the late-blooming William Calfee are starring at Plum's headquarters in Kensington, Susan Middleman is doing some blossoming of her own at Charlie's.
This is the first solo show for Middleman since Wolfe St. Gallery closed, and she's used the time to good advantage. On view are a few of the vigorous portrait drawings she has always done so well. But it is in the large new paintings where a new depth can be seen. A typical example is "So Long, Goodbye," in which two isolated figures -- a man and a woman -- walk away from each other in silence. There is a poignancy in the parting -- unspecific, but unmistakable. The alone-in-the-crowd theme is the subject of other paintings here, the best ones.
Middleman has had an esthetic problem in the past: Her exaggerated portraits sometimes verged on caricature. That problem turns up again here in "Grandmother's Purse." In another, "Woman on Stairs," the distortions in the seated woman's hand seem meaninglessly grotesque, the gold background irrelevant."
But inevitably, as Middleman seeks new compositional and emotional complexity, there will be experiments that work and some that don't. One fine portrait called "Self" suggests that she's moving in the right direction.
Also on view are the sensuous abstract wood and marble carvings of Michael Wehrsted, a student of Leonard Cave. He has learned to work his materials well, though he seems -- in this small sampling, at least -- to settle for the merely decorative. Both shows continue through Oct. 2.