It's hard to imagine drawings by Amedeo Modigliani, Giorgio de Chirico and Paul Klee amid the hubbub of a downtown shopping center. But that's where you'll find them this week.
Since the Judge Gallery opened at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. last September, proprietor Michael Judge has come up with several surprises: first, a show of paintings, prints and drawings from the estate of Italian surrealist painter de Chirico (1888-1978), for which Judge is the exclusive dealer; and now this show, "Mixed Masters," as he calls them -- 50 prints and drawings by modern masters from Picasso and Braque to Miro' and Henry Moore -- rare commodities in Washington, and all for sale.
To be sure, "Mixed Masters" is a mixed bag that also includes some very commonplace, large-edition prints by Chagall, Vasarely and Calder, as well as some posthumous, 18th-century re-strikes from Rembrandt's original etching plates. But anyone who knows and loves drawings and prints will also find highly collectible works on view, all documented as to authenticity and provenance, Judge says.
Some have most intriguing pedigrees. An especially beautiful pencil and wash drawing of a standing female nude by Modigliani dated 1919, for example, once belonged to de Chirico, who occasionally lent a helping hand to his fellow Italian painters. A large, bright watercolor by Miro', made as a birthday card for a distinguished friend, reads: "Bonne Anniversaire cher Igor Stravinsky, 1962." It was acquired from Stravinsky's estate.
There are other drawings of greater or lesser interest: de Chirico's 1940 "Portrait of Rembrandt" and Klee's 1923 study for a painting titled "Bird in November." There is also one tiny oil painting -- a fascinating studio still life by surrealist Yves Tanguy. And for Salvador Dali fans, there is a 1960 watercolor titled "Birth of Divinity," which one can be fairly certain he made himself, though the same can't often be said of his prints.
Among the finest prints are two color aquatints by Georges Rouault from his 1935 "Cirque" and "Passion" series, and several Picasso etchings, notably one from the 1968 "Artist and His Model" suite. There is also a curious little etching by Modigliani, obviously a proof printed askew, that is said to be the only etching the artist ever made.
If the amiable Michael Judge wants to be taken seriously in a city rife with collectors of prints and drawings -- which he does -- he would do well to upgrade the quality of his labels, which often lack the sort of scholarly information, precision and appearance that savvy buyers demand and have a right to expect. But the gallery does guarantee all works to be authentic, and encourages potential buyers to seek curatorial corroboration from appropriate museums, such as the National Gallery, which offers expert opinions (by appointment only) but will not discuss prices.
The show will run only for a week, through Friday, after which it will travel to Judge's older and better-known gallery in Durham, N.C. Thereafter, the gallery's large holdings in modern-master prints and drawings will be available for viewing upon request. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays through the summer. Visions of Pollack
During painter Reginald Pollack's 40-year career, he has been famous, obscure and rediscovered at least three times by well-meaning dealers who have not only believed in him, but backed him with near-religious faith and fervor.
Pollack easily inspires such faith: Wholly committed to art, he is a prolific painter, dazzling draftsman and unrelenting dreamer and lover of life. And despite his ups and downs, his energy and artistic ambition have never flagged, nor has he ever been diverted -- either by trends or suggestions from unhelpful critics -- from pursuing his own vision.
Actually, "visions" might be the better word. For more than a decade, Pollack has painted phantasmagoric cosmic visions of tiny, medieval-looking figures romping, jousting or tumbling through swirling firmaments of paint, all applied to sheets of slick, white plastic-coated Masonite that has set most critics' teeth on edge. But, frankly, Pollack never gave a damn. He liked the smoothness of the plastic surface because it allowed his brush the very self-indulgent freedom that the critics found so objectionable. He continues to use the Masonite to this day, though not exclusively, and though the newer works are more disciplined than before, I still can't like them.
But dealer Jo Tartt believed that Pollack's achievement went far beyond those Masonite paintings, and he set out to prove it. After looking through hundreds of the drawings Pollack makes each day to loosen up his hand, and dozens of small bronze sculptures he has produced over the years -- none ever shown extensively -- Tartt selected some 60 works of the highest quality to make his case. The results prove how important a dealer's eye and judgment can be.
There are several wonderful pen drawings here in brown, homemade walnut-shell ink, some naughty, all studies that focus on the little figures that inhabit Pollack's paintings, but somehow better defined, more approachable and of this world. There are lovers, revelers, mummers and fantasy beasts that bring to mind Callot and Bosch, as does the classical draftsmanship.
Most of the drawings relate to nearby paintings and bronzes, and the transformations the figures undergo as Pollack moves from line to bronze or paint offers great insight into the nature of his imagination.
The pencil study for the "Birdman" bronze, for example, is quite clearly the figure of a man holding a bird. The unique painted sculpture, however, is a deeply mysterious figure in costume, seemingly out of a dream. Here, as throughout this show, we realize that for Pollack there is no real line between reality and fantasy, and we are thus left better equipped to appreciate the richness and inventiveness of his imagination.
Most importantly, we also learn that though all of the aforementioned "smear" paintings tend to look alike, each sculpture and drawing projects a unique and powerful aura. And so do the poignant political paintings on canvas from the mid-'60s, surely Pollack's pinnacle. The tumbling cadavers in "22 November 1963," still have the power to rekindle the sense of horror and hopelessness following John F. Kennedy's assassination. So does the more subtle, allegorical painting "Monkeys Tipping Bird Cage," a commentary on fools in general, and surely one of Pollack's masterpieces.
Bach organ music plays in the background, helping to keep visitors on an appropriately lofty plane as they view this show. With or without the music, however, they are bound to be filled with admiration and respect both for Pollack and for the intelligent and revealing nature of the show itself.
It will continue at 2017 Q St. NW through July 3. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.