Just in case there were lingering doubtsand there weren't many -- Robin Rose's new show at Middendorf/Lane incontrovertibly places him among the best artists in town.
Both abstract painter and avant-garde musician, Rose has performed with critical acclaim in both media, though he has not before attempted to combine the two in a balanced, serious way. These paintings are very serious indeed: The centerpiece, in fact, is a three-part altarpiece with sound that transforms the gallery into a chapel-like setting. Most Christmas shows worship commerce. This one provides a spiritual oasis.
To prove it, you'll have to pull up a chair and listen as the taped, synthesized sounds of voice, tinkling bells and white noise (in the guise of wind) reconstitute themselves in gentle surges of sound that shift from one painting to another, enveloping the viewer. The three diptychs painted with encaustic (wax and pigment) that make up this "Trinity Altar" -- the black "Temptation," the red-orange "Prophecy" and silver "Revelation"--do their part, even though they are not Rose's best work. Ultimately, however, it is the music that provides most of the thrills here, much in the way that choirs do when they resound through great cathedrals.
"The Trinity Altar" grew out of Rose's travels in Europe last summer, where he rediscovered religious art. "I realized that what humans need most is what they're most afraid of today: a belief system. I've tried to make a religious impact without sectarian references." He's done it, and no doubt will do it even better in the future. Meanwhile, the piece yearns for better lighting and a more intimate setting.
There are other handsome drawings, works on paper and paintings, including a great one titled "Patina" -- ordered, brushy, cobalt green marks made from hot wax and brass pigments. Upstairs are several small, witty works titled "Reliquaries" -- homages to other artists -- all painted in the familiar trapezoidal formats that were Rose's hallmark prior to this show. The exhibition continues through Jan. 15 at 2009 Columbia Rd. NW. Hours are Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 to 6; Saturdays noon to 5. Middendorf/Lane will be closed Dec. 24 and 25 and New Year's Day. Foundry Gallery
"Miniatures," Foundry Gallery's annual Christmas show, finds this cooperative with more good artist-members than ever. Within a given format of 4 by 6 inches or less, three dozen of them have come up with a wide range of works, all priced under $300.
Sculpture makes a particularly strong showing, both in the tiny constructions evoking humdrum architectural fac,ades by Marie Ringwald and the ceramic fragments of ancient ruins by Bonnie Collier. Best of all are the triangular sculptures in steel by Mary Frank, each one a whimsical little narrative featuring pyramids, whales and such.
Two good artists have switched media without sacrificing impact. Painter Judy Bass is showing color photographs of Greece that are startling in their three-dimensionality, and photographer Jim Sherwood proves to be a fine draftsman in his color-pencil translations of Polaroid snapshots. The show, at 641 Indiana Ave.NW, continues through Jan. 8 and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 5. Christmas Shopping Ideas
* Not one but two lavish new books about Washington stripe painter Gene Davis have been published, just in time for Christmas and also just in time to go with the three exhibitions of his work concurrently on view in New York: "Gene Davis: 40 Prints and Drawings" in the mezzanine gallery of the Metropolitan Museum through January; "Gene Davis: Drawings," on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art through Feb. 6; and "Gene Davis: New Paintings" at the Charles Cowles Gallery in SoHo through December.
It will come as a surprise that the Cowles show includes not a single stripe painting, but rather Davis' latest switcheroo: several giant heads in flat, black silhouette--all alike and all self-portraits, the artist says. In fact, they bear a striking resemblance to the labels used by Georgetown Leather Design, but open-mouthed and in reverse.
"Gene Davis: Drawings" ($24.50), published as a catalogue for the Brooklyn show, was written by the late Gene Baro. The larger book, "Gene Davis" ($60), is a lavishly illustrated monograph written by Steven Naifeh as his Harvard PhD thesis. Both are available in the Corcoran bookshop.
* Austrian artist and environmentalist Friedensreich Hundertwasser is back in town -- this time with a new poster (ed. 2,000) to benefit the Center for Environmental Education's Whale Protection Fund, titled "Noah's Ark 2,000." Filled with the artist's characteristic swirls of color on a black ground, it carries the message: "You are a guest of Nature. Behave."