PHOENIX II is celebrating its first birthday at International Square with a double-barreled event: a newly published book of Hans Namuth photographs of 24 leading American artists -- among them Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Larry Rivers, George Segal and Chuck Close--and an accompanying show that includes recent works by each of them.
The show is a special treat in a city where none of these artists exhibits regularly, though some (notably Elaine de Kooning, Conrad Marca-Relli and Ibram Lassaw) have had their first Washington gallery showings at Phoenix II this year. The photographs of the artists by Namuth are being exhibited along with the art, and, conversely, the art has been reproduced in the book, making it a rather lavish catalogue for the exhibition. Published by the gallery's backer, University Publications of America, "25 Artists" ($40) also stands on its own as a pastiche of fine photos and reprinted essays.
Both enterprises are commendably ambitious for a commercial gallery here and were conceived and carried out by Phoenix II director, Arlene Bujese. Though styles range from abstract expressionist to photo-realist, the selection of artists seems to have had more to do with geography than art: Nearly all live in New York and spend their summers in the Hamptons. So do Bujese and her husband, painter Alexander Russo.
Happily, Bujese has not settled for small works on paper, but has undertaken the expense of shipping large, mostly recent and preponderantly strong examples by the painters and sculptors on view. Robert Motherwell's "Nemesis" (1981-82), a splattered surge of black on a white field, is first-rate; so are Larry Rivers' hilarious "Webster Angry On a Cigar Box Top" (1979), Audrey Flack's riveting poem-painting portrait of her daughter, titled "Who She Is" (1982) and Howard Kanovitz' haunting photo-realist image dealing with the Iranian hostage crisis, titled "What did Bani-Sadr Say?" (1982). Willem de Kooning's 1981 "Untitled X" wins the prize as the most outrageously overpriced doodle by a great master, at a cool $225,000.
Among the sculpture, the highlight is George Segal's painted plaster and wood installation titled "Helen with Apples" (1981), incorporating one of the three-dimensional, Ce'zanne-like stilllifes Segal showed so successfully in New York last fall. Some of these artists are clearly out-classed by their East Hampton neighbors, but William King, Elaine de Kooning, the late Alice Baber, Esteban Vicente, James Brooks, Jimmy Ernst and Chuck Close are all well represented, the latter with an intriguing self-portrait made from manipulated, handmade paper pulp (in 26 tones) applied through a grid in his current mode.
Hans Namuth's telling photographic portraits of each artist -- some new, some old but never before shown -- add a formidable presence to this show, which continues through Jan. 29. It now remains only to see is Washington is ready for such high-priced art, or if some Santa in search of a last-minute tax deduction might buy a piece to present to a local museum. Stay tuned.
Phoenix II, in International Square at 1875 I St. NW, is open Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 to 6, Mondays and Saturdays 11 to 4. Christmas at Franz Bader's
Franz Bader's 42nd -- repeat, 42nd -- Christmas group show has a slightly new wrinkle this year, though, overall, it is not one of the liveliest we have seen. Instead of focusing on prints and other works on paper, as in the past, Bader has assembled what he considers to be outstanding paintings and sculpture by artists from his stable. Some are, some aren't.
Two of the best paintings, however, turn out to be by printmaker Prentiss Taylor, made in the '40s and '50s, and all the more fascinating for the bits of history they encompass. "Boogie Woogie Epilog" is an after-hours view of a typical World War II Stagedoor Canteen, where entertainers provided American soldiers with free entertainment and good company. "Lamp and Moon, Nantucket," is another warmly affectionate piece by Taylor depicting the summer apartment of Washington painter Sarah Baker. On the night table are two bits of stilllife painting -- a bowl of fruit and a vase of flowers -- typical of Baker's work, and obviously painted as a kind of homage to her.
Berthold Schmutzhart's wooden "Triangular Swan" is typically witty and endearing, as is his wife Slaithong's tender, welded-steel "Bird." Otto Natzler's ceramics, calendars and art books--hundreds of them--are also being offered, along with several small prints under $50. Bader Gallery and Bookshop is at 2001 I St. NW and is open Mondays through Saturdays, 10 to 6 through Jan. 1.