A Style article Thursday listed incorrect addresses for two art galleries. Martin Gallery is at 2427 18th St. NW and Tartt Gallery is at 2017 Q St. NW.
They have names like Cowboy Bob and La Lube Ali and Roosevelt Singleton, and they're dwarfs, and nude men with missing arms and legs, and male figures that self-consciously evoke the days of ancient Greece. They are also the picaresque subjects of a southern gothic artist, New Orleans' George Dureau, whose photographs, drawings and paintings are on display at the Martin Gallery, 3243 P St. NW, through March 25.
The show is not likely to win Dureau many new adherents because it is a careless installation that hides his strengths (the photographic portraits) and emphasizes his weaknesses (the paintings and neoclassical figure studies).
The drawings and paintings -- dwarfs becoming centaurs; male figures on a beach, reminiscent of Matisse's classic dancers -- are pleasant enough and certainly competently rendered. But they're ultimately unsatisfying; not decorative, but as undemanding as decoration. The same can be said for the photographic figure studies, mostly of muscular black men, which are the photographs given the most prominence in Martin's installation.
Dureau's portraits, however, are another matter. The men in these photographs -- dwarfs whose strutting postures echo those of satyrs and maimed nudes who are almost all young, handsome and black -- are rendered with a transparent simplicity that gives the work a dignity belying its more sensational and exploitive aspects. The humanity of Dureau's subjects is allowed to emerge, and we perceive the strange inhabitants of his kingdom as human beings first and curiosities second.
When these portraits are seen in some sort of coherent sequence -- which is not the case in this installation -- they form a visual narrative that reverberates with meanings absent in the more one-dimensional allegorical paintings and drawings.
The 19th-century German term Der Hochromantik (High Romantic) might describe Dureau's work. He mingles southern gothic with a homo-erotic veneer of neoclassicism that alludes to not only Dionysius and the great god Pan, but also pagans of our own era, such as bikers, tattooed outlaws and the denizens of Muscle Beach.
It is only coincidence, but a fortuitious one for those who would like to know more about this current trend, that another apostle -- actually, the archbishop -- of post-Modern romanticism is also in town: Joel-Peter Witkin, whose work is currently at the Tartt Gallery, 2717 Q St. NW. Witkin and Robert Mapplethorpe are the best known members of the Hochromantiks, and both are probably the hottest commercial properties in fine-art photography at the moment. There is an obsessiveness, a moral rigor, that infuses Witkin's and Mapplethorpe's work, but is absent in Dureau's imagery. Although his sweetness, a kind of innocence, sometimes wins you over, there is nevertheless an emptiness, a void, at the heart of Dureau's neoclassic esthetic. Dureau often seems more bemused than obsessed. It's a lack of rigor that ultimately leaves you wishing for more. Wang Ming's Abstract Paintings Going from George Dureau to Wang Ming is a bit like stepping from the panoply of a New Orleans Mardis gras into the stillness of the Elysian fields. In fact, these reflective abstract paintings by the veteran Washington artist evoke another kind of classicism, one more of our time: the era of abstract expressionism.
Wang's work in the past has been concerned with a synthesis between East and West expressed in a variety of calligraphic works that involve quasi-Oriental materials such as the scroll, the handmade book and the folding screen. In his new show at Addison-Ripley Gallery (9 Hillyer Ct. NW, behind the Phillips Collection), Wang is exhibiting his first large paintings on canvas.
For Wang, black is "the king of colors," in accordance with the Oriental precept that if "black is well used you can see five colors," and black is used extensively (and gesturally) here. But instead of colors, one sees other artists, whose presences seem quotational. They're not quoted ironically but honorifically; it's a way of paying homage to those before him, a respect that seems more eastern than western.
Wang's characteristic calligraphy has now taken on a variety of shapes that are reminiscent of ideograms. But they are ideograms of the West, not the East -- gestural black ideograms such as Franz Kline or Robert Motherwell might wield. Other paintings, in which the shapes become massed against spatial fields of color, are reminiscent of Adolph Gottlieb or Jackson Pollock.
These are skillfully wrought, contemplative paintings whose referential and questioning nature constitutes both their appeal and their flaw: Their evocation of stronger artistic presences makes them too self-effacing to be powerful, but that very lack of assurance gives them at the same time an unpretentious and reflective charm that is serene, if eventually a tune in a minor key.
The exhibition, "Image and Environment," closes March 8.