Ask one new dealer in town what he thinks of Washington art collectors and he'll tell you flat out: "There aren't any."
Other dealers admit to a few regular buyers, but insist that there are far too few, given the size and affluence of the population.
This view is supported by the Corcoran's current "Friends' Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition" -- a sampling of art from the private collections of the 1,000 art lovers who contribute $125 per year each to support Corcoran activities. The depressing results suggest that there is little correlation between philanthropy and the art of collecting -- and that the problem with Washington collectors is quality, not quantity.
This motley assortment of 99 contemporary works of art collected over the past 20 years is distinguished only by its appalling mediocrity. Some of art's best friends in Washington have often settled for bad examples by big-name artists. And even when they hve ventured forth to buy work by good emerging artists, they too often chose inferior examples. The Willem de Looper in this show -- but one example -- may well be the worst painting by a good artist ever shown at the Corcoran.
These are exceptions, of course -- a dozen or so collectors who seem to know what they're buying and who buy for love rather than for decoration or investment. But one blushes to think how poorly this show would stack up against works selected from the membership of a comparable support group from New York's Museum of Modern Art.
It is possible, of course, that the show wholly misrepresents Washington's collecting situation. It was organized by a committee of "friends," with extra-artistic considerations clearly playing a major role. Still, it's hard to believe that the Corcoran curators couldn't have ferreted out a better show. Meanwhile, this one continues through Feb. 15.
Noting the art world's recent preoccupation with Texas chic, the Centro de Arte (located in the basement of an Adams-Morgan community center and former church at 1470 Irving St. NW) has come up with a feisty little show -- and a good one -- entitled "South of (and Better Than) Texas." It's goal: "to remind people that art has always been better (and taken more seriously) south of Texas." Several good Washington artists of Latin-American origin make that very defensible point -- among them painter Franciso Alvarado-Juarez and print-maker Naul Ojeda, whose woodcut "Remembering you, Uruguay" poignantly incorporates the cry, "When will there be justice and country for all of us?"
If Hispanics outnumber artists in this neighborhood, it's not by much; and the gallery's broader aim is to give all Adams-Morgan artists -- of whatever ethnic origin -- a chance to show in a noncommercial setting. So Leslie Kuter is represented here by a hooked-rug portrait of Zapata and Pancho Villa, while other area well-knowns Michael Clark, Mark Clark and Linda Swick are showing top-notch examples of their work. Neighbor-sculptor Michael Gessner has made a hilarious carved-wood "business Totem" poking fun at a stack of briefcase-toting men. The show continues through Feb. 15. Hours are noon to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, or by appointment.
'Those who think that the Lone Star state yields only oil will be surprised to discover the "Texas Photo Sampler," a good survey of contemporary Texas photography that is closing today at WPA, 1227 G St. NW.
The 17 photographers, selected by WPA's Al Nodal, cover a broad range, from the nearly classical nudes of George Krause (who organized the 1979 Venice Photo Biennale) to the intriguing iamges of Suzanne Bloom and Ed Hill, who -- under the collective name "Manual" -- seem to be trying to bring Texas into the mainstream of art history by combining great masterpieces from the past with contemporary Texas scenes. In "Houston on Aix," for example, a photo of downtown Houston is effectively superimposed upon a Cezanne landscape.
Other standards here include former Washingtonian Neil Maurer, Nic Nicosia, biting portraitist Gay Block and Nancy O'Connor, who has documented the life of the vanishing black cowboy.
Also on view through today at WPA is the work of Washington artist Michael McCall, who, in recent years, has taken to working on sandy beaches in the Yucatan and elsewhere, mixing raw pigment with sand to create geometric patterns -- zigzags, circles and the like -- that conjure ancient civilizations. To add complexity and longevity, he began photographing these and paintings in situ, suggesting some mysterious but always elusive context. In the most provocative piece, entitled "Myrtle Beach," a sand painting is strewn like a beach towel between two empty beach chairs.
This is interesting work, though at this point the idea is still often larger than the art, particularly in the rather rough installation.
In 1869 the great Navajo weavers who survived the Long March were introduced for the first time to commercial yarns and dyes from Germantown, Pa. There was a sudden explosion of color, and new designs evolved as weavers began to make large rugs that could be sold, along with traditional blankets for their own use. As borders were thrown up around the Navajo, borders began to surround the rugs as well. This period of transition from the 1860s to 1900 provides the highlights of the show on view at Gallery K, 2032 P St. NW, through today. A video presentation about the rugs accompanies the show, which also includes a few kachina masks and tabletas.