There are not a lot of places in town -- in fact there's only one -- where you can see nearly 200 works of art by more than 100 local artists. That one place is the Washington Project for the Arts, the WPA.
All three exhibition floors of the artist-run museum at 404 Seventh Street NW have been filled with local art. Additional smaller works, some no bigger than a postcard, are on display in the ground floor bookstore. The exhibition, complete with catalogue, is as good a survey of Washington art as we have seen here in some time.
All the objects in it have been assembled to be sold.
On Sunday, Nov. 18, at 5 p.m., the WPA will hold its fifth annual art auction at the Old Post Office, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. (The $25 admission charge includes cocktails and a meal.) The WPA auctions started small. But they are small no longer. Last year's offered 78 objects and grossed $103,000, with half going to participating artists. This year's will be larger still. It is an invitational auction. Director Jock Reynolds, and Helen Brunner and Don Russell of his staff, began by visiting more than 300 area studios. They then asked 108 artists to participate in their auction and their show.
Or rather in their two shows. One, of 98 small-scale works, will open at the Old Post Office Pavilion the evening of the sale. The other, of 94 larger, more ambitious things, is now on exhibition at the WPA.
Such survey shows are useful. They make blunt truths apparent. This year's edition calls attention to the three concerns, or styles, now being addressed by Washington's artists: Violent, Trim and Intimate.
All the Violent work displayed is to some degree raw or harsh or hasty. But because it's Washington art, it is -- even at its fiercest -- less noisy, less aggressive, than the Expressionistic painting being ground out in New York. The rougher works on view include "Howling at the Moon," a collage by John Dickson; "Claudia's Religious Fears," by Claudia De Monte (she worries about scribbled swords, blood and thick green snakes); "Fraidy Dogs" by Jo Rango; "Rowing, No. 3," a rough pink seascape by Greg Hannan; and Janet David's "He's not Dating You, is He," an Abstract Expressionist combine made not just of bright paint but of plastic forks and netting, toy false teeth and toy pistols and tongue depressors, too.
The Trim art here recalls the loyalty to order, the rigorous geometries, of Washington Color Painting. The spirit of this city -- with its lettered streets, its balances and checks, and its reliances on precedent -- avoids the chaotic. That old affection for the crisp is felt throughout this show. It is sensed in the black metal triangles of Chris Gardner, in Steve Ludlum's cones, in the verticals and sweetly tuned surfaces of Robin Rose, in handsome drawings by Jeff Spaulding, Patrick Craig and Chip Richardson, in Kendall Buster's paintings done in hard-edged black-and-whites, and in Charlie Sleichter's perspectival investigations.
The show is also full of Intimate objects, private, enigmatic things. These include the strange, tusked, erotic wall pieces of Yuriko Yamaguchi; "Bobonoo," a cast-stone hand by sculptor Alan Stone; Tom Green's watercolors; Elizabeth Falk's "After Breakfast"; Raya Bodnarchuk's shadow boxes; Betsy Packard's pregnant plaster figures; and Mary Annella Frank's little steel beach house, a sort of reliquary for holiday memories.
It is of course true that many of the pieces here resist categories. Al Carter's large painting, which seems a comment on Mitch Snyder, looks like no one else's art. Jody Mussoff's "Two Women With Screaming Bird" isn't Violent, Trim or Intimate, unless it's all these things at once.
The auction show will be on view Tuesdays through Saturdays until 7 p.m. through Nov. 17.