An audacious roundup of 10 "emerging" artists deemed worthiest of national attention opens Friday at the National Museum of American Art. The 50 works by the winners of the first annual "Awards in the Visual Arts," make good on a bold premise. The exhibit, elegantly installed for three months, attests to the possibilities of a far-ranging juried show.
The new fellowship holders share little else. A video installation by Terry Allen chronicles a strained marriage, set in a wrestling ring. Michael Luchs offers rabbits, exclusively, in sculpture and on canvas. In an intimate room, "Five Teens," an alternately horrifying and humorous oil painting by Douglas Bourgeois, puts the viewer face to hard face with blueish drag queens. And Marsha Burns' silver-print photographs dare observers down a narrow passage. The self-consciousness of her subjects, flashing a studied indifference like fashion models but without clothes, puts the viewer in a bind: Are they revealing or masking themselves?
Other contrasts are subtler. Richard Shaffer has filled giant canvases with sharp planes and stark light; his "Mirror, Sofa and Figure," is an untouchable realm of angles and reflections. On the opposite wall, equally huge canvases by Stephen Schultz hold quiet, inward works of dark and subtle forms. His "Finger Puzzle," pulls the viewer into a chair with hazy strands of light.
"AVA 1" combined the efforts of three hefty funding sources, choosing among artists in every medium, nationwide. To give creators in the hinterlands a fair shake, judges (several artists among them) divided the country into regions for review, weighted by density of artists. Thus, Manhattan counted as one region; 91/2 states in the Pacific northwest were another. In the end, New York City scored one finalist this year, the Washington area none.
"AWARDS IN THE VISUAL ARTS 1" -- At the National Museum of American Art, through August 8.