Patrice Kehoe's new abstractions at Osuna Gallery are frenzied brays of color, ferocious polychrome jungles of paint applied so thickly that the gallery reeks of turpentine.
Paintings such as "Cat's Eye and Unmade Thing" and "Interior" jingle-jangle with a syncopated palette of pinks, lurid magentas, pistachios and cake-icing yellows. Kehoe's forms, brushed with an exuberance that suggests "action" painting, resemble anchors, or amoebas or perhaps a child's smashed toy as they surface from a plum colored ooze while vines writhe in and out from the frame's edge. Kehoe, who teaches art at the University of Maryland, says she is trying to push "abstraction to the limit," and part of that limit is a deliberate courting of the antiesthetic: This is art that apparently revels in being unattractive.
To put it bluntly, these are ugly paintings. They deliberately challenge and affront the viewer with their arrogant scale, their blatantly crude shapes, their raucous colors. The formal values that undoubtedly interest Kehoe -- the abstract "events" that happen between the polychrome ribbons of texture, the receding pools of dark space, the deliberately clumsy shapes -- are anesthetized by style. Although I am able to appreciate Kehoe's skill, eventually the constant histrionic frenzy leaves me numb.
The cutting edge also seems less than sharp in the rear gallery, which Ramon Osuna reserves for emerging artists. The magnanimity of this gesture was diluted by the fact that to get into the gallery the day I was there one had to climb over several wrapped canvases blocking the entrance. Once inside, it was difficult to see Ed Albers' paintings because they were blocked by a ladder and by someone else's Magritte-ish screens sitting on a table.
Unfortunately, these distractions were at least as compelling as Albers' art. Albers, a young New York artist, heavily textures his bas-relief paintings, somewhat in the manner of Jean Dubuffet. They look as though they were put in an oven and baked until completely dried of thought or feeling. About all that remains are desiccated designs so stylized they have less presence than bones in a desert.
Osuna, 406 Seventh St. NW, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The Kehoe and Albers shows close April 10.
Baltimore has had more than its share of good photography lately due to the annual convention of the Society for Photographic Education, which brought in professionals from all over the country two weeks ago. There are shows at the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus (Philadelphia's David Lebe until April 11); School No. 33 (1427 Light St., until April 11), which has works by nine women artists, including Washingtonians Terry Braunstein, Karen Keating and Sarah Raymond; and the Baltimore Museum's exhibition of work from six private collections, continuing to the middle of May.
But the real jewel in the crown -- itself worth a drive to Baltimore -- is "A View From Our Place," a large survey show of mid-Atlantic photography at the Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St. in downtown Baltimore.
Survey shows are often more a survey of a curator's taste than of a region, but in this case the jurors (Photo Review Editor Stephen Perloff from Philadelphia and Merry Foresta, curator of photography at the National Museum of American Art) give us an authoritative (and extensive: 275 photographs) overview of the interests and concerns of 31 contemporary practitioners of the art from the mid-Atlantic region -- New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Washington.
And what's on the minds of young photographers these days? Documentary work still has a great deal of appeal: Robert Curtis documents cows, Randl Bye rural Pennsylvania and Thurston Howes views of a punk subculture.
Formalism is not dead either: Adelaide Anderson delicately balances color and texture, mundane objects and geometrical lines in some of the most accomplished individual work in the show.
Landscapes, too, from western classic to panoramic, are much in evidence, as are portraits, the most impressive of which are Sarah Van Keuren's moody studies of reclining people, done in the gritty blues and reds of various antique printing processes.
Photography and words are here also, two notable examples provided by Mary Branley and Shelley Bachman. Branley's stream-of-consciousness reflections are juxtaposed with Florida landscapes, while Bachman gives us "selective fictions" that contrast public and private experiences in both images and words. The words, newspaper headlines with what appear to be journal entries, are delivered with the slightly pompous solemnity that inevitably seems to accompany imagery that attempts to instruct morally.
Processes abound in this show: numerous color prints; panoramic works made from a variety of odd wide-angle cameras; collages and montages (particularly the neo-Surrealist works of Washington's Joe Mills); hand-colored photographs of various kinds; and multiple imagery such as Gail Rebhan's chronological sequences of her husband's and son's day-to-day lives. Martha Madigan shows us a sequence of six gold-toned photograms that combine to make a single image that, once assembled, seems like a lot of effort for a little bit of whimsy.
And the most physically extravagant pieces (though among the least demanding intellectually) are the huge Cibachrome prints by Harvey Leibovitz. In true pictorial fashion, they are beautiful pieces of colored paper with almost no other content than their physicality.
Collectively, this show sparkles with wit and enthusiasm. It is a show that illustrates the commitment of an area, not one spotlighting the talents of individual artists. There's talent enough in evidence, but it is subordinate to the theme of the exhibition itself, which is the state of the art at this time and place.
The Maryland Art Place is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. "The View From Our Place" closes April 21.