It was only the second time Isac Friedlander's art had been shown since his death in 1968, and his widow was near tears as print lovers poured into the Bethesda Art Gallery last Saturday afternoon for the opening. Their admiration came in the sincerest form: a rash of red "sold" stickers left behind on the walls. Few if any of these buyers had ever heard of Friedlander before this show.
Born in Latvia in 1890, Friedlander's life was never an easy one, and it shows in his profoundly compassionate art. Arrested at 16 for protesting curfews and compulsory uniforms, he spent the next four years in prison before leaving for Italy to study printmaking and painting. After the overthrow of the Czar, he returned to Russia, taught art and, in 1929 -- with the help of his cousin Joe Hirshhorn -- emigrated to New York. What he found when he got there -- the pulsing city, the street life, the signs, the lunch counters and, above all, the overriding fact of the Great Depression -- became his chief subject matter.
Despite these themes of profound human suffering -- as in "Bowery Mission," or the dark figure of a man sleeping in a doorway -- there is always an exuberance in Friedlander's art that separates it from despair. "Rhapsody in Black," for example -- one of several beautifully conceived and masterfully rendered woodcuts dealing with the life of urban blacks -- throbs with linear syncopation. So does the rowdy "Brooklyn Bar." b"Memento," a 1945 meditation on a bombed-out cathedral, and "Intercepted," a shipload of frightened emigres stopped in their flight to Israel, suggest the artist's constant awareness of human misery even when he was protected from it.
What's missing in this show is more information about the artist, though there are some superb self-portraits that help bring him to life. What do his paintings look like? How could it be that he has works in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and even the Library of Congress and yet we know nothing about him except what is revealed in these prints? Surely a more probing look at this powerful artist is warranted. The show continues at 7950 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda, through April 2.
Though he was two decades older than Isac Friedlander, famed American "Ashcan School" painter and printmaker John Sloan (1871-1951) shared many of Friedlander's social concerns as well as his territory: New York City. Sloan's, however, was a more genteel art, and while many of his etchings recall the English caricaturist William Hogarth -- crosshatched street scenes teeming with people and detail -- there is no anger or bitterness here, no angst. Only when he renders ladies of high fashion and art connoisseurs (both favorite subjects) does Sloan occasionally slip into caricature.
Otherwise, the former Philadelphia illustrator, art editor of the Masses, clearly loved his city and la vie Boheme in Greenwich Village, and when he records a clandestine mid-winter picnic with friends atop the Washington Square Arch (in a print called "Arch Conspirators") you can't help wishing you were there. Another print showing the Sloans at home with fellow artist Robert Henri and his wife is similarly redolent of the good life.
Sloan made 313 prints in all -- many of them book illustrations -- and they have been slowly and carefully released since his death by his widow. The current selection of Sloan prints now at Hom Gallery, 2103 O St. NW, is from the estate -- and the modest prices may come as a big surprise. The show will continue through March.
It doesn't always pay to be ahead of your time. Five years ago -- before any galleries had moved to Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue -- Sam Tamashiro, former picture editor for National Geographic, set up his Intuitiveye Gallery at 641 Indiana Ave. NW. His goal: to show work by new, unknown photographers. He introduced dozens of good ones in his monthly shows.
But as the neighborhood heated up with the arrival of other art dealers at 406 Seventh St., Tamashiro's rents began to spiral. He taught photo workshops, sold books on photography, and added a business in second-hand cameras and equipment to keep up with costs, but has now decided to quit. "I'm having to work too hard just to keep the gallery open," says Tamashiro. Unhappily, Intuitiveye will close on March 28.
But as it turns out, Tamashiro will still be very much involved with young photographers. He plans to work both as a private agent and as publisher of a new quarterly journal called "Intuitiveye Photographic Review," due out in September. The journal will scan and evaluate photography in newspapers, books, magazines, journals -- everywhere -- taking a broader view of photography than galleries provide. "I've decided," says Tamashiro, "that the gallery route may not be the best way to help young photographers. This way at least I can help them get published, for which they are paid, and give them tear sheets to show the next client." Each issue of the quarterly will carry a post-card-size insert of new work by young photographers.
The last group show at Intuitiveye, "Surrealism in Photography," is also one of the best. Starting out with 20 photographers -- most of them unknown -- it is designed to continually change. "If photographers who come to the gallery can convince me that their work is better than the weakest image hanging on the wall, I'll move the lesser work and hang theirs," says Tamashiro. This unusual show will be open Monday through Saturday, 11 to 5, through March 28.