CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN PRINTS AND DRAWINGS -- Opening Sunday at the National Gallery East Building, through July 19.
Forty years of modern art in America, as represented by works in the National Gallery's current collection, yielded a handful of "schools," produced a number of intellectual puzzlers and, in some cases, lost its shock value long ago.
But an impressive selection of mostly bigname artists fills six rooms of "Contemporary American Prints and Drawings" upstairs at the National Gallery East Building. The show, opening Sunday and continuing through July 19, surveys the major art movements from 1940 to 1980, with apologies to Jackson Pollock and others whose works aren't among the Gallery's holdings.
The more than a hundred works are arranged roughly in chronological order and by stylistic categories. They range from Willem de Kooning's black-and-white ink drawings and Andy Warhol's "Mao Tse-Tung" silkscreens (a series of four portraits of Mao's face in blue, yellow, green and red) to Robert Motherwell's aquatint curiosities like "Red Horizontal" (complete with black verticals), and Gene Davis' optically challenging stripes.
Ben shahn's spare line-drawings depicting an empty orchestra and a wheat field share a room with Andrew Wyeth's realistic "Hawk Mountain," a colorful watercolor over pencil. Besides the label of "representational" art and the time frame (1940's to early '60s), the two have little in common.
The next room is a bright collection of abstract color artists -- Helen Frankenthaler, Motherwell and Jacob Kainen among them. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg are grouped together: two who brought abstract expressionism full circle to depict ordinary objects. Johns' "Coat Hanger," hides in a forest of black lines. His "Ale Cans" lithograph from 1964 isn't realism in the manner of Warhol's soup cans, but an abstraction of the everyday item. His aptly titled "Targets" and "Color Numeral 5," no doubt will continue to raise questions among nonbelievers in modern art.
Rauschenberg's "For Dante's 700th Birthday, Nos. I and II," (1965) a collage including Hell's Angels, Klan members, Hitler, heaped bodies and a mushroom cloud, makes the most powerful social statement in the exhibit.
Pop Art is represented by Warhol, Claes Oldenburg's "Mickey Mouse" and other visual puns. And geometric abstractions -- including emotionless grids by Agnes Martin, and Frank Stella's recent molded paper work -- rule the last room with diagonals, squares, lines and planes.