She stands on her bronze pedestal, she is lovely and she's lithe. She might stride or stretch or dance were it not for the metal threads -- lines of force, or stickum -- that tie her to the ground. That captivating captive, by Washington's Elizabeth Falk, is an admirable metaphor for "The Figure in Bronze: Small Scale," the 19-statue group show at the Middendorf/Lane Gallery, 2009 Columbia Rd. NW. Strong threads of tradition -- that stretch but do not break -- tie these 20th-century objects to statuary's past.
These standing and reclining nudes, even those cast just last year, would not look out of place in a plush Victorian parlor. These goddesses of metal, sensual yet innocent, cast an antique spell. They seem direct descendants of the dancers of Degas, the bronzes of the Renaissance, the statuettes of Rome.
The oldest statue on display, Alexander Archipenko's heavy, smooth "Madonna," was made in 1910. Other figures here date from the '20s and the '30s, the '60s and the '70s. Paul Manship's green-patinaed nymph is streamlined and seductive; George Spaventa's regal standing figure (1968) is as rough as a de Kooning. The golden Gaston Lachaise from 1924 is elegant, amusing and as plump as any pear; the two amazing Mary Franks -- her "Sphinx" of 1958, her "Lion Headed Woman" from the early '60s -- are both serpent-slender. Yet these nudes seem sisters. It was popular, not long ago, to look at art in terms of sequenced revolutions, but here we sense continuum. These figures rise, as Venus did, from a smooth, embracing wave that rolls out of the past.
There is something timeless about bronze, and something timeless, too, about the female figurine. She has been with us always. She was present in the Ice Age, carved roughly from round stones; she was smoothed by mathematics by the sculptors of the Cyclades who modeled her in marble 5,000 years ago; nowadays, in chrome, she rides the hoods of cars. Her softness and her warmth somehow seem enhanced by cold stone and metal. One wants to touch the bronzes here; they seem to have been made for the hand, not just the eye.
John Storrs' "Figure of a Woman" (circa 1930) may be the most regal object in this show. The two small works by Mary Frank are perhaps the most mysterious. The large torso by California's Manuel Neri -- her hair is like a pyramid, her skin is rough as bark -- may be the most powerful. There are some male figures here -- Saul Baizerman is represented by three small urban workers, a "Driller," a "Pants Presser" and a "Steel Man" from the '20s -- but the males seem little more than supporting figures. The goddesses on view do not all look alike, but they sing a single theme.
Most of the objects were borrowed from New York galleries. The show was organized by Caroline Huber. It closes Nov. 7.
Simon Gouverneur, now artist-in-residence at Howard University's College of Fine Arts, makes small, mysterious, densely patterned pictures he calls "pictograms." They are now on view at Howard's gallery of art. They belong to the domain that lies between the realms of notation and representation.
Is that geometrical figure of hexagons and arcs meant to be a flower? Should that sequence of small signs -- star, disc, crescent, spiral -- be read as a message? Gouverneur's patterns are at times as tightly locked as those of patchwork quilts, but his colors tend to be flashing, bright and free. These works seem to have been made in obedience to rules, but the rules remain elusive. The rigor of his method -- he works with straight edge and compass -- gives these works a sense of order, but that order soon dissolves.
The black and white "pictogram" he calls "Hija Mayor del Sol" (1979) seems a pyramid of secrets, of arrows, eyes, and frogs and fish, "magic squares" and flags. Its coded markings call to mind electric circuitry, memories of nature walks, arcane numerology -- yet if the viewer stops, and empties out his mind, and only looks, and does not try to read the messages before him, these "pictograms" survive as nicely colored, tightly ordered, eye-pleasing designs. The show closes Nov. 6.
Brush's Pen & Inks
There is something irritating about the highly elegant, rather beautiful new drawings of Daniel Brush now at the Fendrick Gallery, 3059 M St. NW. Brush can't resist the precious.
His drawings, which he makes, obsessively, with ruling pen and ink, aren't drawings, they are "cantos." A series of his pictures is not a series, but a "koald," whatever that means. His show is accompanied, at his request, by a plate of lemons that, of course, have withered. These new drawings, we are told, were inspired by his dreaming of the Shinto shrine at Ise in Japan. Those with grouped horizontal lines are "swords"; those whose images are paired are "mirrors"; the ones with curves are "curved jewels." Brush works this way: He focuses his mind on one thing or another -- an imperial jewel, a chocolate cookie -- and then makes his drawings in a sort of Zen-like trance. The catalog for his last show at Fendrick, "Koald 83: Herring and Potatoes," contained his family's recipes for meatloaf and chopped liver. The difference between a Brush drawing, excuse me, canto, inspired by an imperial mirror and one prompted by his musings on chopped liver is surprisingly slight. The ends of the ruled lines that present a straight line in one canto might create a curve in another. Brush, who uses the finest 1,100-pound Arches paper, likes to float his images in an expanse of whiteness. The real beauty of these pictures -- their subtlety, their daring delicacy -- demands of the viewer a mood of calm, of affirmation. But Brush breaks the viewer's peace of mind with his affectations. His show closes Nov. 7.