Two years ago, minimalist Anne Truitt was making paintings that were white-on-wite: spare, silent, hermetic. One critic called them "holier-than-thou." Since then, Truitt appears to have shed her nun-like asceticism for what is -- in the context of her work -- an almost rowdy romp with color. Her new works -- 15 large, brilliantly colored paintings and seven columnar sculptures -- have just gone on view at Osuna Gallery, 406 7th St. NW.
Though Truitt has done paintings over the years, she is best know for her sculpture -- tall, rectangular wooden columns covered with layer upon layer of paint, usually in pastels. In the quiet presence of the best of these works -- sculpture or paintings -- the willing viewer gradually perceived a warm glow emanating from beneath the surface and, ultimately, the sense of levitating, disembodied color. Willingness on the part of the viewer has always been crucial, for the work has been so reticent, so velf-contained and polite, trhat those who gave it only passing attention got noting from it, save perhaps a chuckle or a sneer.
In her new paintings -- large squares of pulsating magenta, howling yellow or perky blue -- Truitt seems to have changed her tactic and gone on a visual offensive, first stopping the viewer in his tracks and then strutting her stuff -- the same panoply of contradictions that made the quieter works interesting.
"Journey," for example, appears at first to be a flat, solid, uninflected square of purpled red, interrupted only by a narrow, wavy band of orange at the very bottom of the painting, like a horizon line. (The same format is used in nearly all the paintings, though colors vary.)
But closer examination reveals that within this rigid format, a great deal of activity is taking place. There are the softening sense of the artist's hand in the brushy paint and the excitement of layer upon layer of color -- blue, red, magenta -- rushing to the surface. All this was happening in the earlier, paler works as well, for those who found it. What's new is that now, like them or loathe them, these paintings cannot be ignored.
There has been less change in the colums on view here, though one yellow piece, "Summer Remembrance," is newly bright and has a stippled surface -- something that has not appeared before in Truitt's work.
Now 60, Truitt has been a revered figure in Washington art circles since Clement Greenberg "discoved" her, along with Washington Color Painters Morris Louis and Ken Noland. In 1968 Greenberg wrote: ". . . if any one artist started or anticipated Minimal Art, it was she." First lady of Minimalism or not -- she has no esthetic "line" herself -- Truitt has done well and has been honored for her work in solo shows both at the Whitney Museum in New York and at the Corcoran. Since 1975, she has been a professor at the University of Maryland. This show, which for the first time seems invite a dialogue with strangers, will continue through the summer. Lowell Nesbitt
Barbara Kornblatt, 406 7th St. NW, is showing large-scale paintings by Lowell Nesbitt and a half-dozen others -- mostly abstractionists who prove that in art, as in other things, bigger is not necessarily better.
Behind the unattractive brown-beige color scheme in Nesbitt's giant painting of iris blossoms, for example, one suspects there lies a heavy demand from interior decorators for brown-beige paintings of this size. Like Nesbitt, many of the other artists shown have done better, among them John Alexander, John Alexander, John Seery, James Voshell and Philip Wofford. The most interesting works on view here have noting to do with this show. They are prints by Adolph Gottieb and the sweepingly curvaceous abstract sculptures of John Ferguson, who somehow manages to make welded steel dance like a ballerina. The show continues through Aug. 21. Ida Kohlmeyer
There's more to Ida Kohlmeyer's colorful abstractions than first meets the eye. Though not profound, these are intelligent works, and several are now on view at McIntosh/Drysdale, 406 7th St. NW. All variations on the same theme: a basic grid with each square filled by a drawing of an object -- an apple, a sunburst, a toy top or letters of the alphabet -- or symbols, almost all indecipherable. Sometimes the works are tightly gridded; more often they are loose and almost childlike. One work, "Symbols," has every square filled by a check mark -- a funny reference, no doubt, to the artist's modus operandi .
Kohlmeyer is a New Orleans artist, better known in the South than here, though she did show at Henri several years ago. She has made a few moderately priced serigraphs, including an especially pleasing one on black paper, that would look good anywhere. Her canvases with bits of Styrofoam stuck to the surface are more playful than interesting, and her one serious attempt to break out of her usual format -- the grid -- simply does not work. The rest of the show, however, is full of sunbursts and joyous color, and it's hard to argue with that. The show continues through July 3. Angus Whyte
Unhappy news: Angus Whyte, one of the original six who opened last fall at 406 7th St. NW, has announced that he's giving up the gallery to return to private dealership. In his place, at least for now, is an array of American decorative arts belonging to the partnership of Newcomer/Westreich, who showed here earlier this year. The current show is of high quality and includes a profusion of paintings, weather vanes, furniture, folk sculpture and a model of a sidewheel steamer. An eye-dazzling patchwork quilt from Pennsylvania is the star of this show.