AT first, "In/Out: Four Projects by Chilean Artists" at WPA looks like a show of mute media hardware--a video screen, a slide projector, a tape recorder, a bit of neon. But don't be fooled: The artists in this show (two live in Chile, two in New York) have a great deal to say to their rich North American neighbors--not all of it polite.
For starters, Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar has undertaken to set the record straight on the misuse of the word "America" by those who take it to include only the territorial United States. Using a photograph of the White House as background, he toys with the letters "US," setting up a play on the "us and them" mentality that separates North and South Americans. "America Minus America Equals South America," he chides.
Jaar, an architect who has lived in New York for the past two years (and served as organizer of this show) does his consciousness-raising firmly, but gently and with style. There is a sense of the clenched fist in the guerrilla art of CADA, an art collective in Chile, which has purchased a carton of used American clothing (said to have been shipped to Chile for sale to the poor) and returned it--with contempt--in the form of a heap on the WPA floor. There is an accompanying tape, but it adds little to the force of this vaguely obscene gesture.
Eugenio Dittborn also lives in Chile, but his large, powerful wall-hung works reverberate with the most advanced international trends. Using photographic images taken from newspapers or television screens--often fallen runners or boxers--he incorporates Plexiglas overlays, blood-red brushstrokes and real objects to make ominous, symbolic works that are unspecific, but rouse a distinct sense of a losing struggle. He is the discovery of this show.
After 20 years in the United States (don't say America!), Chilean-born Juan Downey seems both apolitical and more accomplished than ever in his new videotape titled "The Looking Glass." An exploration of the symbolism of mirrors in art and architecture, this 28-minute tape is worth sitting still for--especially if WPA can scratch up a chair. The show continues through April 23 at 404 Seventh St. NW. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 5.
In a related event, 40 "Contemporary Latin American Printmakers," including five from Chile, are showing at Fondo del Sol, 2112 R St. NW, through Saturday. Hours are 12:30 to 5:30. Berthold Schmutzhart
Bliss, for sculptor Berthold Schmutzhart, is to float on the wind in his handmade glider. His carved wooden fantasy figures at Franz Bader Gallery share this yearning to fly.
In fact, the show has the energetic look of a Jane Fonda exercise class--except that the figures are only half-human. Backs arched, hands vigorously thrust skyward, these large, rough-hewn walnut and cherrywood Chimeras--or "dream swimmers," as the artist calls them--have elongated, bird-like bodies with human faces and hands attached, the appendages carved from varicolored natural woods. Two distinct sources come to mind: Eskimo stone spirit carvings and religious sculpture by German expressionist Ernst Barlach. A similar spiritual aspect characterizes the best work in Schmutzhart's show.
This semi-serious turn suggests a broadened expressive range for an artist better-known for witty works such as "Pressed Duck," which features three wooden ducks, bottoms up, inside a partly opened sardine can. More impressive in this show is a Barlach-like floating figure--perhaps an angel or a saint--titled "Dream Flight," which would be at home in a church. Schmutzhart began his career in Salzburg carving medieval-style figures for a church; the memories seem to have ripened into something very much his own. The show continues through April 16 at 2001 I St. NW. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 to 6. Gabor Peterdi
Though better known for his innovative etching techniques, Yale professor Gabor Peterdi has been a virtuoso of the brush--and of color itself--for the past quarter century. A scattershot survey of his paintings since 1957, on view at both Jane Haslem locations until last week, has now been weeded out to make a smaller and better show at 2121 P St. NW. It marks the highs and occasional lows of a formidable career.
Though he settled upon his chosen subject long ago--landscape, seascape and nature in general--Peterdi's oeuvre is curious in that his style has been in constant flux in two distinct respects. He has never settled into a single niche between recognizable imagery and pure abstraction, choosing instead to keep exploring degrees in-between; nor has he ever stopped varying his brush strokes. Some combinations work better than others.
There are, for example, bold expressionist abstractions from the late '50s that recall Franz Kline, and delicate cascades of fine calligraphy from the '60s in the manner of Mark Tobey, both meant to conjure natural forms. In the '70s, Peterdi moved closer to a depictive art, rendering turbulent, dark seas and mountains with a power that came from the combined use of image, mark and color to reinforce a single, expressive end. "Blue Rocks, Dark Sea" is a superb example. Peterdi has produced less satisfying experiments, notably the "Wetlands" series, which features grassy fields in irrelevant and tacky colors, and some of the excessively decorative new florals.
The show continues through April 14. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6.