The art of drawing -- long considered irrelevant in some modernist quarters -- has triumphed again in a new crop of gifted, hardworking artists who can draw anything in sight, and do. Their chief problem is finding significant subject matter. Virtuoso draftsmanship is no longer enough: Good realist art these days also demands meaningful content.
In her striking show "Bums and Other Drawings," now at Jane Hasslem, 2121 P St. NW, Jeri Metz has found hauntingly significant subject among the "grate people" and "bag ladies" who sleep on Washington's sidewalks. Photographers have dealt with this troubling subject by recording specific graphic miseries. Metz, however -- taking the license that her art allows -- sets out to create a memorial to the irony of the situation.
"Levitating Bum Monument" is the show-stopping result, a black-and-white drawing that is an icon for Washington. It shows a sleeping derelict seemingly transformed into stone through cool, meticulous drawing. But the most powerful element here is the fact the he has been placed -- like many other "objects" in this capital city -- upon a marble pedestal: Cleaned up, monumentalized and forgotten. It is a knockout image, the sort that comes rarely but has a long-lasting impact. The show, which includes other good drawings, including several in a lighter vein, continues through January.
The Angus Whyte Gallery, 406 7th St. NW, is showing some new acquisitions of fine prints and drawings, a mix of old masters and recent Americans. In the contemporary category, Sigmund Abeles steals the show with a lithograph of a woman holding a tiger lily. The flower provides the only touch of color in an othewise black-and-white image that recalls the drama and feel of both Edvard Munch and the preRaphaelites. Abeles is one of many gifted draftsmen whose reputations have lagged largely because their subject matter has had narrow range and appeal. Because times have changed -- and because Abeles is now better than ever -- the gap between talent and recognition should soon be closed. A larger look at his work would be of interest.
Among the offerings by old and often anonymous masters from the past are drawings and several prints from the 17th century, notably "Pigs Sleeping in a Stable" by Karel Dujardin. There are also many treasures hidden away in drawers, including a Rubens drawing after Titian. The show continues through Feb. 5.
Advancing across the floor at McIntosh/Drysdale, 406 7th St. NW, is a small contingent of spherical forms that look like UFOs. The work of New York sculptor Gary Burnley, these rotund objects were cast from a mix of plaster and cement and then covered with luscious della Robbia glazes in geometric designs that recall Russian constructivism. Together, these works have a beguiling presence that belies their size.
On the walls are the less interesting paintings of California artist David Schirm, who was included in the last Hirshhorn "Directions" show -- "eclectic surfaces" division. These are, despite their fancy designation, nothing more than abstractions that look like underwater-scapes and night skies with bits of collaged canvas, plastic, pearls and tiny balls of silverfoil attached. So what else is new? Both shows close Feb. 5.
The International Monetary Fund gallery, 19th and H streets NW, is currently showing 14 artists from the East and West coasts, all represented by private Washington dealer H.H. Leonards. Despite the fact that there's nothing remotely resembling the "new wave" suggested in the overblown title ("New Wave: East Meets West"), this is an interesting show in that it introduces good artists from both coasts who have not been widely exhibited here. Robert Singleton, for example, is an abstract artist from West Virgnia, a Castelli-New York dropout rediscovered here in some fine pastel abstractions with landscape overtones. Jim Opinsky's mosaic-like pattern-paintings on paper show great promise, while rousing the wish for more variety in both color and form. Hilda Thorpe, Andrea Way and Susan Davis -- whose "Celebration" print is a steal at $150 -- are also represented.
The biggest discovery from California is William Gatewood, who makes fantasy kites that are irresistible, even if they don't fly. The show closes Jan. 30, but most of the artists can be seen thereafter through H.H. Leonards of Washington.