Sculptor Joan Danziger is well known hereabouts for creating a whole new species of fantasy beasts. Part-human, part-animal, her large, mixed-media figures stand around and play harps and violins and such, or just sit and look mysterious and surreal as their heads sprout antlers and their feet sprout claws. They've grown in sophistication over the years, but otherwise, they haven't changed much.
In her first Washington show in some years -- just opened at the Textile Museum -- Danziger shows signs of actively seeking new possibilities.
She has a new format: small, wall-hung tableaux. Her fantasy characters -- with their animal masks raised and their human faces showing -- have become dramatis personae in what look like a combination of stage sets and classical architecture. The floors are covered with oriental rugs -- a nice bow to the host museum. The figures sit silently among the columns, some playing violins or cellos, others holding animals not usually found in marble-columned domiciles -- including snakes and wart hogs.
As always in Danziger's work, pussycats are everywhere, some lap size, others transformed into huge sphinxlike sculptures and capitals on columns. But despite the richness of detail, the overall impression is that of people waiting around for something to happen. The problem: the viewer may have the same feeling.
These works are charming, but they are mute as narratives, though narratives are surely implied at every turn. It is almost as if Danziger had carefully arranged her stage sets, costumes and characters, but failed to provide a script. The curtain is up, but there's no play.
Oddly, though fantasy beasts have always been the Danziger hallmark, it is the nonfantasy still lifes in this show that constitute the best work. In the confusingly titled "Landscape," a swath of sculptural, draped, oriental carpet, projects from the wall, supporting a chair with a cat underneath. In "Allusion" (perhaps a reference to a painting by Vermeer), a table is covered with a heavy patterned tapestry topped by an ancient-looking jug. Both are simple -- no tricks of scale or other surrealist flimflam. Yet they have a timeless presence.
"I like taking the real and making it unreal," says Danziger. In these two still lifes, that's what she's done, in works that seem to have been made with considerably more conviction than the other, rather uncommitted variations on the past. They could point to a new direction in her work.
The exhibition is very badly lit, and the viewer can't look at many of these works without covering them with his own shadow. To celebrate the museum's 60th birthday next month, someone ought to go out and buy it some new lights.
The show continues through June 2 at 2320 S St. NW. Hours are 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Saturdays, Sundays 1 to 5. Metal Sculptor Michael Todd
Kornblatt Gallery looks like a high-class furniture showroom at the moment, with sofas brought in to keep company with coffee tables and other tables by metal sculptor Michael Todd. Todd is an artist whose calligraphic welded steel abstractions have been seen and admired here often over the years (at Diane Brown and Kornblatt). Happily, he has managed to preserve the art in these utilitarian adaptations of his characteristic forms.
There are tall tables and end tables, but the best are the coffee tables, typically topped with seemingly levitating, overlapping discs of metal (or glass) and supported by three legs made from bent rods, tubes and calligraphic squiggles of steel. Each table also includes his signature form: a hardened blob of molten metal added by way of a flourish. In Todd's hands, metal appears to be supple, and even a lowly table manages to take on a certain sculptural nobility. The show continues at 406 Seventh St. NW through May. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10:30 to 5. Andrea Way at Fendrick Gallery
Andrea Way manages to wrest expressive beauty from what can only be called compulsive abstract activity, and new-talent hunters would do well to see her current show at Fendrick Gallery. Working against a colored background, Way first covers the paper with a grid of tiny numbers or letters, and then superimposes dot-to-dot drawings governed by a pre-established pattern or rule. By some miracle, the best ones -- such as "Bloodlines," made from red lines throbbing against a dark background -- are powerful indeed. The show closes today at 5 at 3059 M St. NW.National Gallery's 'Formats'
Most visitors to the National Gallery East Building are wholly unaware of the adjoining Administrative and Study Center -- another entire building tucked in beside it. This atrium building contains, along with offices, the gallery's great art library, which is closed to the general public. Through May, however, interested parties can be admitted (upon polite request at the guard station) to see a modest but intriguing little show organized by the library staff.
It is titled "Formats with Flair," and makes the point, in 20 examples dating from the 16th century to the present, that designers and binders have always sought unique ways to express their own creative instincts, especially when dealing with books on art. There are a few early examples, but the most interesting ones are exhibition catalogues from recent decades designed by Bruno Munari, Ivan Chermayeff, Ed Ruscha and others to reflect the subject matter inside. Viewers can eat their hearts out that they didn't buy -- for example -- such present-day collectors' items as Pontus Hulten's aluminum-clad catalogue for the Museum of Modern Art's 1968 exhibition "The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age," or the Jasper Johns catalogue with paint-it-yourself target published in 1971.
The show can be seen (and the building peeked at) Mondays through Fridays during regular National Gallery hours.