The show at Gallery K is titled "Neo-Primitivism," but "Neo-Naive" would be a more accurate description. And the distinctions between the two are not as subtle as they might first appear.
"Neo-Primitivism" is a style that pulses to the rhythm of tribal incantations and jungle drums. It emanates from a kind of primal urgency -- the need to retreat to a bedrock of essentials, to a simplicity of biological inevitables.
Naive painting is something else entirely. However nostalgic, it is always contemporary. But it is an art of the untutored vision, essentially unself-conscious and deliberately anti-intellectual.
"Neo-Naive" work, on the other hand, is highly sophisticated and actively intellectual. The stylistic conventions of naive art are employed, but in a fully conscious manner. The intention is to emphasize the seriousness of purpose of the art by perversely contrasting the content to a style that implies a lack of thinking.
The five artists in this exhibition, which will continue through Jan. 26, fall, more or less, into the latter category.
Noche Crist, whose work is familiar to the Washington art audience, continues to parade her frosted Freudian fantasies. Like a sugarcoated Hieronymus Bosch, she has pushed taste to its absolute limits. But her cut-out life-size self-portrait is something not to be missed.
John Harne illustrates the dilemma of modernity -- the difficulty of reconciling technology and biology -- in his cartoon-like "angry man" series. Harne's protagonist wears a symbolic striped suit, and his love-hate relationship with his television set consumes most of his energy. But this is serious work, not to be denigrated because it also happens to charm.
Jo Rango employs a naive imagery but coats it with a gestural veneer. Style, rather than content, seems to be her goal. And Barry Gordon does naive versions of Miro, but his ineptitude seems more natural than calculated.
Ed Bisese, who shows two kinds of work, creates huge portraits in oil on paper of subjects with outsize heads and diminutive appendages. This is an arranged marriage between expressionism and the naive with potential for longevity, but it is too soon to pass judgment. The success of his superb pencil drawings, however, is never in doubt. None of the hesitation or forced feeling of his oils shows up here. Each is a perfect blend of vision, sensibility and skill, and together they illustrate the possibilities in this stylistic approach.
Gallery K has done everyone a favor in bringing these five together. If the shoe doesn't quite fit in every work, it can nevertheless be worn, and the effect outweighs any discomfort. Myriam Laplante at Shainman
The Jack Shainman Gallery has been open for only a few months and its first exhibitions have been devoted to three artists who have more than style in common. Myriam Laplante, who is exhibiting until Feb. 6, has worked in collaboration with Claude Simard and James Hanson, whose exhibitions preceded hers. Their most recent joint venture covered 450 square meters of the interior of St. Gerard-Magella Church in Larouche, Quebec, with an Expressionistic interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. The submerging of the individual styles of these three artists produced a vibrant, unified and intensely moving work that has thrust this small Canadian town into prominence.
Ironically, that excitement seems to be absent when Laplante works alone. Although a perfectly competent Expressionistic painter in the contemporary Italian tradition -- Laplante, although Canadian, lives in Italy -- the work exhibited here seems uninspired.
Her favorite subject is a hairless, unclothed, rather stolid figure whose activity is generally limited to a simple gesture or a meaningful glance in a controlled and spare brand of Expressionism.
Her most successful work, "Trilemma," documents the struggle of three figures. Their exaggerated presence, as they grip and turn and twist, pushes at the space within the canvas with a measurable effect. The positive and negative elements within this work have been put into competition.
It could be that "Trilemma" is a metaphor for the recent collaboration among Laplante, Simard and Hanson, which must certainly have been as trying an endeavor as it was successful. But the conflicts within this work make it the most interesting of this exhibition. Tension, it would seem, is a very useful device. If Laplante's individual works are to equal her collaborative successes, more of it is required. CAPTION: Picture, Ed Bisese's "Question of the Beekeeper's Wedding" (graphic on paper, 1982) at Gallery K. Copyright (c) Breger & Assoc.