If the level of political discourse is getting you down, see Leslie Kuter's show at Addison/Ripley. She may make you laugh, she may make you mad. At the least she'll make you feel something -- no mean accomplishment in the political arena these days.
A Washington artist and activist for more than a decade, Kuter has never minced words or images. Even her medium -- shaped, figurative works made from hooked wool rather than from paint on canvas -- has been something of a struggle, an offbeat underdog occasionally scorned as "craft."
No more. Though she still occasionally misses a likeness, Kuter has now mastered her unique medium to an astonishing degree, rendering three dimensions -- and even something as ephemeral as the sea spray under the shah of Iran's water skis -- with virtuosity. She also tempers her high seriousness with good humor. This show starts with several witty portraits of political figures at play: Fidel Castro pitching a baseball -- seemingly across the room -- to Jesse Jackson, who squats, thumbs up, holding a catcher's mitt; and, from the past, a wonderfully woolly President Taft, teeing off in rumpled knickers.
But when she gets to "Nixon, Rebozo and Abplanalp Boating," an image based -- like others -- on a newspaper photograph, she swiftly shifts the mood from fun to furtiveness, using monochromatic browns to underscore a sense of metaphoric moral darkness.
The biggest statements in this show are aimed at the present administration, which Kuter sees -- and powerfully depicts in "Reagan and the Cheese Line" -- as being oblivious to the poor. Here, several figures, bundled against the cold, stand in line with shopping bags waiting for government-issued cheese, as a jocular Reagan, wearing a tux and a smile, charms the viewer from his wing chair -- a poignant juxtaposition of hopelessness and hilarity. In "Foreign Policy," she moves from irony to anger in another mural-size scene showing anguished victims of the current troubles in Central America. Above them, removed from the fray, Reagan in his pajamas and George Shultz in casual dress discuss the crisis over the phone.
Agree or not, with Kuter's view of the world, anyone who has followed her career must admire her persistence and ever-increasing skill at making her points. The show, at Addison/Ripley, 9 Hillyer Court (in the alley behind the Phillips), will continue through Nov. 10. Hours are 11 to 5, Tuesdays through Saturdays. Invasions by Mark Cohen
It's hard to imagine what the citizens of Wilkes Barre, Pa. must think when they see native son Mark Cohen walking down the street. By now, they no doubt admire his large reputation as a street photographer, a new-breed documentarian stylistically descended from Weegee, Winogrand, Frank and Arbus, and established in a 1982 solo show at the Museum of Modern Art. But they must also fear that he might suddenly move in, camera in hand, and let loose a blast of strobic light at a neck, a thigh, a hand, a gesture -- anything he wants to capture on film.
Cohen literally shoots from the hip -- anytime, anywhere -- which has led more than one good citizen to take swings at him for invading their turf. He doesn't deny the charge. In fact, "Invaded Spaces" is the name of his current show at Jones-Troyer. But he justifies his means: "I'm not really trying to say anything about those people," he once told an interviewer.
For Cohen, people are just subject matter -- like trees and rocks -- and his spontaneous, chance images are intended not to reveal individuals, but to capture bits of visual reality that only a camera (with the help of artificial light) can see. As if to prove it, he beheads many of his subjects.
The present show -- which follows his 1981 solo at the Corcoran -- includes work from the past dozen years, and we can see how his means suit his ends. How else could he have captured the pudgy hands of the startled woman clenching her coat? He had to move equally fast to catch the primping gesture of the woman in a fake leopard coat, and the curving thigh of a teen-age girl, whose allure -- though minimally suggested here -- is sexually loaded and universally understood.
It is the feelings roused in his viewers -- not the psyches of his subjects -- that interest Cohen most, a point made by a study of a woman in a hat, observed at a wedding. He saw her as hanging on to her youth. Other observers may see her as anxious, pensive or merely preoccupied. Though it is not the sort of image that made his reputation, it is considerably more interesting than the tack he has pursued in some new, full-length blurred images that are utterly mute. The show, which also includes some work in color, will continue at 1614 20th St. NW through Nov. 17. Hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6. Prints Still Available
Fair warning: "Old Master and Modern Prints," the smashing season opener at Hom Gallery (2103 O St. NW), can be viewed only today and Tuesday from 11 to 5 before it closes. Though more than half of the 116 prints have been sold, museum-quality impressions by Durer, Rembrandt, Bonnard, Manet and Picasso remain. If you love prints, don't miss this one.