The new gallery season came to life last night on the Seventh Street strip with the opening of 12 new shows, two new galleries, some eye-popping figure paintings and 27 hours of ear-boggling tapes of criminal confessions made over the phone to a former Washington artist known as "Mr. Apology."
Those tapes -- which caused a justifiable stir when exhibited at the New Museum in New York last fall -- can be heard in four confessional-like phone booths set up in the Washington Project for the Arts lobby, 404 Seventh St. NW. Brace yourself. After listening to all these muggers, rapists and murderers, you may never go out on the street again.
Sixteen more traditional -- and less disquieting -- works of art are inaugurating Jane Haslem's new downtown space at 406 Seventh St. NW -- all figure paintings by Washington artists. If the show comes to no conclusions about recent figure painting here -- except that a lot of artists do it -- it does speak well for its variety and craftsmanship.
There is a broad range, from the chaste realism of Frank Wright, in a painting of his daughter, to the naughty-boy nudes with Minotaurs by Joe Shannon -- angst-ridden, sexually blatant images clearly designed to shock. Rebecca Davenport's full-length portrait of herself is shocking too, but only in its relentless self-abuse; Danni Dawson takes a more generous, poetic view of herself, caught in the act of painting.
Alan Feltus, as always, manages to infuse the incidental with an other-worldly tranquility and monumentality in two standing female figures, one incongruously holding a Band-Aid. There are other good works -- but no surprises -- by well-known realists John Winslow, William Woodward, Manon Cleary and Val Lewton. The show -- a strong start for a new era at Haslem -- continues through Oct. 16. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays. Illusions, Times Three
Illusionism -- or fool-the-eye painting -- has been a persistent strain in American art since the days of John Peto. Osuna Gallery's opener, titled "Illusion," deals with three contemporary practitioners, albeit not of equal interest or accomplishment.
John Stewart, who has been painting erotic images of couples wrapped in garishly colored satin sheets for some years now, has come up with more of the same, except that one of his wrapped torsos is now pregnant -- no great surprise. A more mature painter is Frank Anthony Smith, whose allover still lifes feature paint-splattered sticks, swatches of canvas, glass beads and jewels, all seemingly afloat, their overlappings and shadows creating a sense of illusionist space.
Smith's problem is visual confusion and a lack of focus. "Wooden Holiday," a painting in the hall, however, shows Smith to be a master at simulating wood, and he would do well to explore that gift. In a wonderful switch, sculptor Robert Bourdon has transformed real wood into three small carvings representing metal and rubber auto parts, and you won't believe they're made from wood. Bourdon remains peerless in this company. The show continues through Oct. 14, and hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Old Masters
Ramon Osuna has also opened a new space, called Osuna Fine Arts, on the third floor of "406," just one flight up from his contemporary gallery. It will be used to display the European old masters and Spanish colonial paintings he has been dealing for years from his crowded back room.
The airy space -- gussied up with some American Empire furniture -- is already filled with paintings from the 17th to the 19th centuries, mostly minor masters but a welcome sight for lovers of old pictures, an all-too-rare commodity here. There are a few big names -- Salvator Rosa and Jean Leon Gerome among them -- each respectably represented, as is the romantic, neoclassical sculptor Carl J. Steinhauser. But most exciting are the discoveries to be made among the lesser-knowns, such as Frenchman Emile Levy (1826-1890), whose pudgy-faced "Girl in Kimono" is a superb painting by any measure. It also costs less than works by most big-name contemporaries.
More showroom than gallery, the emphasis here will be on changing pictures, not changing shows, though an ambitious exhibition of baroque painting is scheduled for February. Hours are the same as at Osuna Gallery. Adamson's Lithographs
Also new at 406 -- next to Lunn Gallery, where William Eggleston's new photographs are on view -- is the third-floor gallery of David Adamson. Adamson is a master lithographic printer from London who trained at Tamarind Workshop and Petersburg Press, and who is now an assistant professor at the Corcoran School. His space will be devoted to showing and selling lithographs printed in his new workshop in the Lansburgh building, where he will do contract printing for area artists and some print publishing of his own. The opening show includes new lithographs by Kevin McDonald, Andrew Hudson and others. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Landfield's Abstractions
Ronnie Landfield's new works at Kornblatt Gallery look more like they were painted to meet a deadline than out of any inner need to paint. Since the 1970s, this New York artist has built a large reputation with his stain paintings, often with a hard-edge strip across the bottom. He has taken a serious turn for the worse in a new series of paintings, now made from blobs of paint dragged across the canvas with a palette knife, often in layers to create color transformations. Landfield has a feel for his hues, and there are some delicious ones here. But deep down this is shallow, purely decorative abstraction that would send Nicholas de Stael spinning in his grave. The show closes Oct. 17, and hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.