It's not the Corcoran's fault that Washington is a staid town preoccupied with politics. The museum must be commended for devoting its annual area exhibition to video, even if the software's slack.
The first major homegrown video show opened this week with 10 tapes selected from 60 Washington/Baltimore/Richmond entries. Unfortunately the level of art is disappointing, lagging behind sophisticated efzorts in other parts of the country (many of which were screened at the AFI festival here this summer). Los Angeles and New York have nurtured video artists for some time; San Francisco's public-access cable television channels have provided an outlet for bizarre and revolutionary videotapes for years. Washington's videographers are just getting started, but at least this show holds promise for the future.
Violence, schizophrenia and paranoia are recurrent themes. Toy cars are crashed in more than one tape. Most rely on old-fashioned documentary techniques, with a few high-tech, split-screen and freeze-frame tricks thrown in. Only one, "Aquarelles" by Vibeke Sorensen, ventures into the relatively new art of computer-generated graphics. But even this piece of changing colors, organic shapes, repeated forms and throbbing light and sound falls into a trite repeated star pattern which seems borrowed from commercial TV. (Some of the best computer graphics appear on network promos -- who else can afford the latest equipment?)
The hour's worth of tapes range from a freeze-framed, jarring view of jilted lovers, to a mockery of traditional art in "The Table Has Legs" by Marshall Reese and Sam Zappas, in which a painting flies on and off a wall. Michael Moser's "BYF" (which doesn't stand for anything) includes voice-over musings on ghosts, the 14th Street Bridge, snow and airplanes. And in "Happy Medium," Larry Kaufman pays tribute to the tube, showing a bored young girl and disgruntled older woman venting their anger via remote-control channel switchers. There are explosions and gunfire on the soundtrack and ultimately, of course, the Sony is trashed, too. "23rd Area Exhibition: Video" -- At the Corcoran Gallery through October.