Zigi Ben-Haim manages to employ many of trendy art's neatest tricks in the work on view at the Baumgartner Gallery. To shaped canvases that project from the wall he applies pieces of painted metal that project even farther. He uses pattern and repetition and texture with a self-conscious flair and tops that with wads of crumpled newsprint and the now almost mandatory gestural paint. His colors are appropriately somber, but he often counters this angst effect by adding a dash of red -- sometimes in paint, sometimes in metal. In sum, this is perfectly competent abstract art -- completely at ease within the conventions of modernism and clearly treated with a fairly high level of sophisticated calculation.
But Ben-Haim approaches each piece, whether sculpture or painting, as a new and individual problem. As a result each one is a forceful statement, well resolved, but each seems to speak a slightly different language. Thus his aesthetic hyperbole projects a multiplicity of competing ideas and in the midst of this visual din, it is not easy to focus on the merits of individual pieces.
When one does, a new problem emerges. However satisfactory the formal resolution, what is obscure is the rationale for the devices he uses to obtain it. Too often his goal appears to be nothing more than "looking good," and this is not a sufficient reason to make art.
But the failure to project a more complex rationale doesn't necessarily mean there isn't one. The honesty of a piece such as "Night of the Whale" makes that clear. Devices which read as visual cliche's in other works are simply the means to an end in this piece. Square canvases are positioned to push and shove against one another, creating a sense of tension and agitation. One understands a little more, looking at this painting, about darkness, fear, isolation and power. This is a strong and convincing work and its success implies that there is more to Ben-Haim than the glibness some of his other works would imply. The exhibition continues through March 23 at 2016 R St. NW. Baroque Revisited
Excess was the essence of the Baroque period. It was a style characterized by overabundance, unabashed sensuality and visible energy. All of this has been dusted off and contemporized in the paintings of Traute Paustian-Ishida, on exhibit through March 27 at the Henri Gallery, 1500 21st St. NW.
Paustian-Ishida uses stereotyped floral design elements as metaphors for domesticity and superimposes them upon forms and shapes which, in their energetic relationships, are meant to refer to natural elemental forces. At least that's the way she explains it. But the overriding effect is that of pattern and decoration.
These works have all the subtlety and restraint of a burlesque queen. They are padded and patterned. They are applique'd with lace and tarted up with gilt. The colors are exotic and abrasive, the contrasts are jarring and the juxtapositions are startling. But one assumes all this is intentional. If this work flouts just about every convention of taste and design, one must acknowledge its strength and presence. The Curves of Art Deco
The two artists exhibiting at the Touchstone Gallery both employ the sensuous, stylized curves of Art Deco, but in different mediums and with different results.
Mirella Monti Belshe' is a highly skilled sculptor whose considerable talents produce an art which nevertheless seems dated. Her appropriation of Art Deco conventions seems more reverential than ironic, and thus, out of step with the times. There are two exceptions to that observation. "Paba Umbra" and "After Forma" are both executed in gleaming black marble. Here the approach seems less formulaic and predictable. These two top-heavy forms create a slight apprehension. Their curves are exaggerated just enough to suggest the merest hint of humor.
Connie Slack creates large, carefully controlled acrylic paintings. She uses the tasteful colors one finds in today's public interiors -- maroon, forest green, beige and terra cotta. These works seem destined to find a home in a bank lobby or a corporate dining room where they are guaranteed to please a few and offend none.
The exhibition will continue through March 17 at 2130 P St. NW.