Architects have been infiltrating the New York art gallery world -- traditional bastion of painters and sculptors -- for the past several years. And some of them -- notably Michael Graves -- have gained supernova status in the process, not only for their buildings, but also for their drawings and designs for everything from dishes to silver teapots.
Of course, architects from the past have been known to work in various media: Michelangelo not only designed St. Peter's dome in Rome but also painted a rather spectacular ceiling nearby -- not to mention his marble Pieta in the apse. Closer to home, Frank Lloyd Wright -- whose drawings have only recently become a hot market item -- insisted upon designing complete environments including his own, often very uncomfortable, chairs.
Recent events have encouraged a renewed bond between architecture and art: the building boom, the new Post-Modern interest in decoration and the appetite for public art whipped into being by laws setting aside a certain percentage of public construction budgets for art. As a result, architecture itself has become a powerful force in the art world, sometimes changing the very nature of art by encouraging artists (sculptors in particular) to produce ever more ambitious and innovative schemes in the scramble for architecture-related commissions.
Much of this interaction was first made visible in the Manhattan gallery of former Washington dealer Max Protetch, who began showing the work of select Post-Modern architects, as well as artists working in architectural modes (such as Jackie Ferrara or Siah Armajani) in the mid-'70s. Evidence that the trend has finally hit Washington turned up last week in several shows, including "Architectural Prints" at David Adamson's gallery on the third floor at 406 Seventh St. NW.
The scene-stealer here is the first woodblock print by Michael Graves -- an absolute beauty, printed by traditional craftsmen in Japan. Miraculously, it retains the pellucid look of watercolor, along with the artist's delicate touch. A typical Graves interior, the scene includes an image of the silver teapot he designed, soon to be shown at the Renwick along with tea sets by several other architects.
Along with Arata Isozaki's prints based on his recent renovation for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles are several prints by Richard Haas, who designed the half-complete illusionist mural for the facade of the Lincoln Building on 10th Street, opposite Ford's Theatre. Wynmark Developers called in Haas to add distinction to the renovation of an old building not otherwise likely to make it as a downtown landmark, and put painting yet again in the service of architecture.
Architectural preservation, in fact, has long been at the heart of Haas' work, and he has sought to bring back to life lost architectural landmarks such as Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Building in Chicago by painting them full-scale on the blank side of a building. This "Chicago Project" is the subject of one of his best prints in the Adamson show, though it is no substitute for the stunning illusionistic impact of the original. His recent panoramic view of the Mall from the top of the Smithsonian Castle, published by the Smithsonian Associates, is also on view, though none of these Washington projects yet approaches the quality of those in New York, Chicago and elsewhere.
The "Windows" of Washington's own Michael Clark are also included here, along with images of simplified architectural details of Hugh Kepets. And to see how deeply architecture has permeated the life of master printer and dealer David Adamson, don't miss the adjoining space he has just rented for the purpose of producing more highly successful computer software for the use of architects and interior designers. 'Washington Figurative Sculpture'
Fendrick may be the only gallery in town that has been working hard for years to interest architects and builders in commissioning major artist-craftsmen like Albert Paley, designer of the cast metal benches and grates along Pennsylvania Avenue. But in its ambitious new show of "Washington Figurative Sculpture," the gallery also takes note of the several figurative artists who have been doing very nicely, thank you, without benefit of any dealers.
Though most of the 13 Washington artists represented have never before shown in any gallery, two have garnered two of the biggest figurative commissions in recent years. Ray Kaskey's huge "Portlandia" figure, which is to decorate the facade of Graves' now-famous Portland Building in Oregon, is represented by the huge, hammered copper hand of the still-uncompleted female figure; and Frederick Hart's "Creation" tympanums on the west facade of the Washington Cathedral are shown in small models and a large photo mural. Hart was also the sculptor of the three soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Apart from Kaskey, Elizabeth Falk and Emily Kaufman, who works in cast epoxy, this is a show that has more to do with the persistence of tradition than innovation. But it also hints at the level of architecture-related activity that takes place in Washington out of the public eye.
The show should cause a considerable stir, and -- with luck -- some new commissions as well as insights. Fendrick is located at 3059 M St. NW. Alice Lees
Washington artist Alice Lees makes no bones about her dreams of creating a permanent architectural installation. In fact, her entire show of kinetic neon and fluorescent drawings at Wallace Wentworth consists of proposals related to architecture -- not only in form, but in subject matter as well.
In this series, Lees has concentrated on the amusing notion of liberating figures from their architectural settings on classical pediments and capitals, and she has done it in several ways. In the works on paper, mannequin-like figures drawn in fluorescent paint squirm to free themselves from the top of a column; in several larger works, linear figures fashioned from bent neon tubing burst out of a section of pediment that has been painted upon the wall, or upon canvas.
But in the most successful works, the mood is that of exuberance, not imprisonment. Figures tumble, cavort or dance their way across various architectural settings, including the National Museum of American Art, which comes alive in black light, handled with unusual sophistication and good craftsmanship. Here, as in several other small works, Lees has found a way to advance her large ideas on an intimate scale that can be enjoyed in a domestic setting. Her show, at 2006 R St. NW, will continue through Feb. 2. A large piece is also temporarily installed at the American Institute of Architects -- a frieze of red neon figures cavorting around the lower edge of a balcony.