STARTING OFF STRONG with David Hockney, the Hirshhorn's show of "Representation Abroad" keeps the same winning pace throughout. The paintings, drawings and sculptures cover, and uncover, the human figure -- as well as depict lightbulbs, sinks and featureless seas. Because there are as many as 20 works by one artist, it's possible to dwell on the very differing visions of 16 artists. And their 147 works stir up intimate, immediate response.
To Americans, Hockney is the best known of these artists, who work mainly in Europe. He is endlessly facile, whether in the disjointed sketches of his aging mother or in the brightly colored, playful paintings of his friends.
For his pure colors, Luciano Castelli has been named "the New Fauve" -- but a better description of his paintings might be Marilyn Monroe meets the neo-expressionist. His rouhly drawn portraits of sprawling, naked women are suggestive of being suggestive.
Leonard McComb's women are devised on the draftsman's board; he draws and paints a figure on a dozen 2f x 3f canvases he puts together. The whole piece vibrates with pervasive parallel hatchmarks of pale blue and yellow. But, in the battle of the sexes, Sandra Fisher seems to have the last thrust with her male nudes.
Following the dramatic realism of Caravaggio, Tibor Csernus' nudes are modern madonnas, paused in some passion play only they can know. In one, a nude woman rolls up a bedroll while another woman watches. With Csernus' chiaroscuro technique, the players stand out as if by camera flash. They pause in the odd ambiguous moments between action -- the before and the after.
Contrasting with these static moments in reality are Wolfgang Petrick's violent slashes of color depicting a sort of beauty and the beast: A man in wolf's clothing ravages a semi- lovely punk. Somehow it makes sense that Petrick is quoted in the show's catalogue as saying, "I like hell."
Though Petrick and others such as Klaus Fussmann take flights of fancy, other artists in the show confine their vision to the studio. Isabel Quintanilla's landscapes are objective views from her own windows. Avigdor Arikha's paintings are unstaged, uncontrived, found images that absorb him -- albeit for only one sitting, which is his limit. It's the wrong side of a cello propped in a corner, or a yellow lightbulb forgotten on a radiator cover, or an old friend sweating in a T-shirt.
Something is slightly awry in Rodrigo Moynihan's realism. His obsessive shelves, holding a sculpted Roman head and paint tubes, bisect an oval canvas, disturbing the perception.
The same holds true for the fragmented self-portraits of Juan Cardenas. Tweaking reality, he offers up missing pieces -- a corner of the room left unfinished, feet melting into a carpet, walls not quite solid. Painting himself in hisstudio, like a spectre in an empty room, he gently confronts the viewer. He's a sleuth in a trenchcoat, asking us if he's really there.
REPRESENTATION ABROAD -- At the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden through September 2.