If artists are currently obsessed with architecture -- as "The Artist Obsessed: Architecture Perceived" at Fendrick Gallery suggests -- who can blame them? Architecture is, for the moment, where the art world action is, where new ideas and money are most swiftly joined as corporate image makers rush to outdo one another with the "in" architectural amenity of the '80s: ART.
It should be noted that this expanded patronage of art can have a pragmatic base: Many private developers who install public art (good or godawful) are rewarded with permission to build higher or bigger buildings. If such schemes do not always benefit either the skyline or the public, most at least give artists an important boost, permitting the better ones to explore ideas and eat at the same time. They offer not only commissions and major sales but prominent and permanent showplaces, and any artist who works for a living would be a fool to ignore such opportunities.
The Fendrick show merely hints at the profound impact architecture has had on the directions taken by recent art. Though the show makes the point that such influence goes well beyond providing subject matter, that is the main use of architecture for many of the more traditional artists in this show.
Others, however, have invented imaginative amalgams, such as Ned Smyth's sculptural columns with expressive, exotic palm tree-like tops, several of which form his "Arcade" on Hammarskjold Plaza in New York. More of Smyth's updated monumental columns surround the chess player's paradise he has designed for Battery Park, a bit of sculptural architecture (or is it architectural sculpture?) represented here by a scale model.
New York artist Peter Saari, who was in a Hirshhorn "Directions" show, is perhaps the best known in this group. He makes mock-ancient, fool-the-eye mosaic wall fragments, or what appear to be bits of ancient Roman wall paintings, out of molded canvas and plaster. Wholly convincing -- don't miss the fake mosaic fragment in the stairwell -- they are another intriguing adaptation that both imitates and is architecture.
Old buildings have influenced the sculpture of Boston architectural restorer Louise Freedman, whose soft plastic molds taken from brick exteriors, old door hinges and ornamental carvings seem to melt off the walls and collapse. In her best piece, the two-part "Penetrated Corner," a flying section of brick wall appears to penetrate a gallery wall -- architecture as a living, dynamic force.
Of those here who paint or draw traditional architectural themes, young Cleveland artist George Kozman is the most impressive. Working on huge sheets of paper coated with gesso, he zooms in on architectural details of European buildings and then scratches into his painted and drawn surfaces, giving them the look of aged stone and marble.
Janos Enyedi's "Industrial Drawing #3," a relief construction made from hand-folded paper, illustration board and basswood and coated with shimmering graphite, is the strongest of the works by Washington artists.
This show, which could usefully be expanded by a museum, will continue through April 19 at 3059 M St. NW. Hours at Fendrick are Monday through Saturday, 10 to 6.
H.N. Han at Capricorn
When Hunan-born New York painter H.N. Han was last seen here in the Hirshhorn's Bicentennial show, "The Golden Door: Artist Immigrants of America," he too was dealing with architectural themes, notably the facades and fire escapes of SoHo (a striking example of which the Hirshhorn owns). There were other subjects as well, from New Jersey oil refineries to bird's-eye views of the traffic-clogged intersection of Times Square and 42nd Street.
But it was Han's style that was unique -- at least since the days of Seurat. Using layers of acrylic paint applied with a spray gun through cutout stencils, Han somehow managed to give his paintings a Pop-Pointillist look. He also transformed such familiar urban images as a rooftop garage or a parking lot into timeless, otherworldly scenes through skewed aerial perspective and unreal, whitened colors. There were often color variations on the same theme, including some in black and white.
In this welcome update at Capricorn Gallery in Bethesda, Han hasn't changed so much as he has expanded his subject matter to include sunny but cool and rather unconvincing swimming pool scenes with figures, as well as landscapes. The best of the latter is "Highway Landscape" -- a trailer truck lumbering down the foliage-rimmed New York Thruway. Han goes to great lengths to challenge his ability to make something poetic from the ordinary, and here he nobly pulls it off.
But oddly, it is the large new black and white drawings in this show that outshine everything else. Built from large dots of black ink carefully laid on with a bamboo brush, all deal with the same theme: bird's-eye views of bustling downtown Manhattan intersections choked with buses, cars, bikes and pedestrians waiting at crosswalks or making their way across the street. "In Front of Macy's" is an especially fine example, all dappled light and shadow that dissolve the busy, noisy scene into silent poetry.
If the texture of these works recalls Chuck Close's recent thumbprint drawings, the mood is closer to that of early 20th-century printmaker Martin Lewis, who also loved, above all, the play of light on city streets.
Han's show will continue through April 23 at Capricorn Gallery, at 4849 Rugby Ave. in Bethesda. Hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.