Theresw,-2 sk,2 ld,10 were tacos and chili at the opening of "Five Texas Artists" at McIntosh/Drysdale Gallery earlier this week, but the food was the only predictable thing about the show. Anyone expecting cowboy paintings will find, instead, highly original and sophisticated work that includes everything from a processional cross to dancing demons.
Texas isn't what it used to be, and neither is its art.
These artists have little in common, except that they live in various parts of Texas, show regularly in New York and are currently riding a big wave into the most prestigious contemporary survey shows. Painter Melissa Miller, the youngest and trendiest of the group, is in the current Hirshhorn "Directions" show, where larger versions of her Neo-Expressionist fantasies featuring predatory birds and dancing animal ghosts are on view.
If there's a regional aspect here, it will be found only in the religious sculpture of Michael Tracy, who lives in San Ygnacio, a village of 600 Spanish-speaking people on the Mexican border. Profoundly concerned with the miseries of contemporary Latin American life, Tracy believes there is, in his words, "a direct connection between the gospel and social dignity and justice."
He combined religion and politics in a large, shrine-like installation for the Hirshhorn "Content" show, titled "Cruz for Bishop Oscar Romero, Martyr of El Salvador." But here, he sticks to religion, though usually expressed in a generic way that crosses boundaries of both time and culture.
Several triptych-like sculptures, for example, take on the aura of religious works simply by mimicking or evoking, in their outline and form, the traditional shape of Gothic and Renaissance altarpieces. There is no painted image: These pieces are carved from wood and punched tin, slathered with dark acrylic paint and then subtly dusted with metallic powder in a way that evokes a sense of the precious religious object.
But Tracy is most specific -- and most poignant -- in "Standing Cross (Cruz de la Paz Sagrada IV)," in which the thickly painted processional crucifix takes on vestigial human form that is just specific enough to make you wince at the huge nails and spikes that have been driven into it.
Vernon Fisher, from Fort Worth, seems distinctly secular by comparison. Working on large sheets of paper backed with nylon, he combines painted images taken from photographs, TV or movies, with stream-of-consciousness bits of narrative that are presented as words punched through the surface of the paper. The viewer is left to make connections and personal interpretations.
Anyone who has seen Fisher's engaging, autobiographical "Stick Chart Navigation," a new acquisition at the Corcoran, will quickly recognize the evocative and expressive narrative possibilities inherent in his work. Left with only the examples at McIntosh/Drysdale, however, one is bound to wonder whether he hasn't gone so far in the attempt to be unspecific as to be meaningless.
But James Surls, widely known for his distinctively rough-hewn public sculpture in wood, is well represented here by "Small Dragon," which has a central spine made from a gnarled length of wood, with protruding spiky scales that seem to have been seared, perhaps by the dragon's breath. Surls lives on a farm outside Houston, where he gathers and cuts much of the wood he uses in constructing these anthropomorphic forms, the best of which seem to take on some preternatural life of their own.
The show's senior artist, Joseph Glasco, came of age in New York in the Abstract Expressionist heyday, and that era still echoes through his large abstract paintings swept with collage.
This ambitious show will continue through April 12 at 406 Seventh St. NW. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. Meyerowitz's Cape Cod Photos
Photography galleries continue to proliferate in Washington, the newest and most unusual being the Winthrop Faulkner-designed gallery wing that has just sprouted on the side of the Chevy Chase home of the formerly private dealer Sandra Berler.
The inaugural show features new work by photographer Joel Meyerowitz, well known for his luminous, poetic color photographs of Cape Cod, Mass., published in 1978 in a popular book titled "Cape Light." This show celebrates a new series and accompanying book titled "A Summer's Day," in which Meyerowitz continues his love affair with Cape Cod. But he appears to be spinning his wheels in the sand as he restates earlier themes without improving them. There are satisfying evocations of rainy, wind-whipped days on the beach, but "A Summer's Day" is a distinct runner-up to both his own earlier work and Faulkner's architecture. The show will continue through March at 7002 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase. Hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment. R is the Art Street
Make way for the R Street Strip, Washington's fastest-growing concentration of commercial galleries, located just off Connecticut Avenue north of Dupont Circle. Two more good dealers -- Gallery K and Anton Gallery -- have acquired townhouses at 2010 and 2108 R St., respectively, and have announced that they will open there by next fall. Their new R Street neighbors will include Baumgartner Galleries, Marsha Mateyka, Wallace /Wentworth, Fonda del Sol and Brody's, just around the corner.
Gallery K will remain at its present location, 2032 P St. NW, through early summer. Anton Gallery's final show at 415 East Capitol St. SE -- paintings by Wolfgang Jasper and Reid McIntyre -- opened last night, and will close with the gallery on March 31. Anton hopes to renovate and reopen on R Street by mid-June.