THE STICK FIGURE was man's first self-portrait. "The Generic Figure" at the Corcoran suggests it may also be his last.
In this show of the work of 12 artists, this stripped-down, basic form stands for alienation and depersonalization. While the stick figure was drawn on cave walls by primitive artists, in today's art it is also a signpost: Watch for statements on the human condition.
For example, Keith Haring, who makes line drawings on the streets of New York with marker pens, has used here white acrylic lines on a large black canvas to depict his stick figure being drawn and quartered by four cartoon hands.
Roger Boyce's large wall piece seems to be a balanced array of aqua and grey modular shapes, reminding one of a crowded warehouse for office furniture. But it is people that are overcrowded. For, instead of chairs, a closer look reveals robotic forms -- dimensional stick figures with square shoulders, cube heads and stiff arms that grapple in a chaotic wrestling match, strangle-holding and flattening each other.
Some of the artists revert to the very primitive line drawing, but the message is the same. In A.R. Penck's strong composition in black-and-white, "The Future of Immigrants," his stick figures are too compelling to be child's play.
Clich,e and sports talk have replaced individual expression. Ries Niemi's flat, half-figures do hand signals -- they call time out, salute, chide ("naughty, naughty") and declare themselves winners. Of course, these plywood referees have no faces.
Confirming a hopelessness is Jonathan Borofsky's faint silhouette of a businessman -- a Willy Loman at that. And Antony Gormley's untitled sculpture, a sleeping effigy of ineffectualness, dozes on the floor.
But dehumanization is not without its lighter side. Tony Cragg's "Real Plastic Love" uses blue and pink plastic pieces for the him and the her in his fragmented "everycouple." Muddied from the trash heap, among the recognizable plastic items are two filthy combs, a pink baby lotion bottle, a blue Bic lighter, a child's watch and a mascara container. These are all glued to the wall to form the shape of an embracing couple.
Their counterparts are to be found in Tom Otterness' automatons, aptly named Adam and Eve. On the order of C-3PO, the bronze duo make a charming pair, with mechanical arms, organs and windup keys.
Replacements are on the way, figuratively speaking.
SPECTRUM: THE GENERIC FIGURE -- At the Corcoran Gallery of Art through April 20.