After a long summer the Seventh Street art scene began to come back to life last week with the reopening of the four galleries now holding the fort at 406 Seventh St. NW: Kornblatt, Osuna, Jane Haslem and David Adamson.
That's one gallery fewer than last season at "406," and two fewer than the season before, reflecting the shrinkage after the recent recession.
But there's good as well as bad news on the health of the downtown gallery scene.
On the up side, Jane Haslem has decided to consolidate her two galleries at 406, and at the end of October will close the 2121 P St. space she has occupied for a dozen years.
On the down side, it appears that the peerless exhibition space formerly occupied by Harry Lunn, now closed, will be filled not by another gallery but by a private design studio.
As for the hole in the ground across the street from 406, known as the Gallery Row Project, it has been learned that developer Calvin Cafritz has withdrawn from that partnership, leaving plans for a lively $7 million complex of galleries, shops, bars and restaurants to molder in limbo a bit longer. The remaining partner, Robert Lennon, says he is negotiating with a new developer. Hans Hofmann at Kornblatt
In the galleries, Barbara Kornblatt's season opener--paintings by the great abstract expressionist artist Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)--is by far the starring event on Seventh Street. A small retrospective of sorts, it includes a dozen representative, high-quality works selected from the Hofmann estate. All are for sale. One of the great, late-blooming painters of the 20th century, the German-born artist made all of these paintings--in fact, all of his surviving paintings--after age 56, when, transplanted to New York and Provincetown, he took up his brush again after a hiatus of decades devoted exclusively to teaching at his famous school in Munich.
It is no wonder, then, that these "early" works are so fine. Any museum would be proud to own at least three of them. Dating from 1936-38, two are small, semiabstract landscapes, the third a jewel-like "Still Life--Blue Vase on White Table," all vigorously rendered in the brilliant blues and oranges of the Fauves. Hofmann spent his student days in Paris among Matisse and Picasso and Braque, and their influence was manifest not only in his paintings, but in his teachings as well. It was at the Hans Hofmann School in New York--more than at any other single place--where the first and second generations of American abstract expressionists (including critic Clement Greenberg, Lee Krasner, Marca-Relli, Helen Frankenthaler and Larry Rivers) soaked up the lessons of European modernism.
There are other historically significant works on view, notably "Composition No. 6," a 1951 geometric abstraction with thickly applied areas of color that awkwardly presage his mature "slab" paintings. There are no example of the "slab" works here, but perhaps that is fortuitous; it forces the viewer to focus on the less-known early paintings, as well as on the masterful, smaller works on paper, all suggesting that Hofmann is still far too little appreciated as the great painter he was. This show will continue through Oct. 26. Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10:30 to 5:30.
In a very different vein, Kornblatt is also showing in the rear print gallery some intriguing recent aquatints by New York figurative expressionist Eric Fischl, along with a giant lithograph by Robert Longo and a newly issued mezzotint by Helen Frankenthaler. More at '406'
In the other galleries at "406": Jane Haslem is showing a group of large-scale figure paintings by gallery artists, including an impressive new piece--and a new tack--by Stephen Tanis, through Oct. 8. At Osuna, paintings by Robert Griffin and fool-the-eye wooden sculpture by Richard Haden (who specializes in imitating car parts) will be on view through Oct. 18. On the third floor, David Adamson has on view an ongoing flurry of prints, including strong and handsome abstract linocuts by newcomer David Engel. Adamson is also offering advance subscriptions to a not-yet-printed suite of five lithographs by Kevin McDonald; prepublication price: $1,000.