A new double bill at the Phillips Collection will sort out the upstairs/downstairs audiences. In the main galleries, an eclectic show of some 48 paintings, "Dream Vision: The Work of Arthur B. Davies," is sure to fascinate academic insiders as an art-historical footnote. Downstairs, 60 fantastical and pure tempera paintings, silkscreen prints, clay masks and a life-size papier mache sculpture called "Ms. Junk" offer the general visitor "Art from Children's Studio School."
The "serious" show poses problems. Davies may be best remembered as art adviser to collectors (notably Duncan Phillips) and organizer of the Armory Show, which introduced modern art to this country in 1913; but his murals, particularly those covering every inch of the Lillie Bliss music room, and his friezes of dancing classical nudes, floating in groups, pairs and singly out of dream states, are curiously impenetrable.
In his Symbolist experimentation, reaching back with nostalgia for a Golden Age, Davies put a personal twist on mythology. His figures are gentle, sometimes broken into planes of color in a variation on Cubist themes. Shafts of light play against classical landscapes, Eastern images appear in aquatints and etchings influenced by Delacroix.
Dreams seemed to captivate Davies: Closed-eyed or slumbering virginal females are a favorite reference, most striking in his 1908 "Sleep." "Unicorns" depicts another popular symbol, wild and erotic. "Unicorns" and the fluid figures of the 1914 "Isadora Duncan Dancers," have a strong surface beauty, but leave the viewer feeling that a part of the artist is off on another plane.
Downstairs, by contrast, you need no art background to appreciate the stark expressions of sorrow, fear and joy. Similarities to Picasso and Miro, who drew on children's art for inspiration, are obvious. (Crayoned caption on a portrait: "It's a lady who's hollering at a man because he won't dance with her. He's dancing with another woman.")
DREAM VISION: THE WORK OF ARTHUR B. DAVIES -- through February 7;
ART FROM CHILDREN'S STUDIO SCHOOL, through January 10, both at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street NW.