It's always good to see the Washington art scene generating some of its own steam -- even in the summer heat.
The Gregg Morris show at McIntosh/Drysdale is a case in point. Corcoran curator Ned Rifkin first stoked this particular fire by including Morris (better known as a steeplechase jockey from Elkton, Md.) in "The Generic Figure" exhibition at the Corcoran last spring, along with bigwigs like Keith Haring and Jonathan Borofsky. Dealer Nancy Drysdale liked what she saw and offered Morris his first show in 10 years.
For both artist and audience, it is of immeasurable benefit that Morris' stripped-down, hard-edged black and white paintings came into public view within the context of Rifkin's thought-provoking show. Part of a Corcoran series that attempts to make sense of current trends, "The Generic Figure" examined a subgenre of current art that employs figures -- reductive, featureless forms with a computer-generated look -- to express their concerns about the dehumanization of the individual in our technological society.
Though born of the same postminimal era need to express human feelings that prompted current neoexpressionists, this art is more restrained in every way, including its pristine appearance. It has a refreshing, cleansing effect after the excesses of neoexpressionism.
Morris' superbly crafted paintings -- mostly bold, black enamel forms on a smooth white ground -- fit the category, but also have their own distinctive character. Cool, cryptic minimal abstractions at first encounter, the paintings soon begin to reveal all manner of things: the silhouettes of soldiers with fixed bayonets emerging from behind a hill; a lone figure trapped in the hold of a sail-less boat; a huge portrait of what appears to be a floppy-eared rabbit's head. Ominous or funny -- and Morris can be both -- his message comes across once you break his code.
When the code is broken, however, are his messages worth getting? Some are, some aren't, and one of the joys of this show is first tapping into his visual language and then sorting the good from the banal. For example, "Anxious Head," like many heads here, looks like a pointlessly oversized blowup of E.T.; and "The Lesson," a blockheaded figure seated before a levitating crossword puzzle, is nothing more than a one-liner.
But overall, this is strong work, and if Morris can sustain this level, he's on his way. His paintings will be on view through July at 406 Seventh St. NW. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Peter Steiner's Paintings
Gravity seems to be the propelling force in Peter Steiner's witty paintings at Fendrick Gallery. But a van Gogh-like palette and vigorous brushwork add velocity as rolls of hay tumble down hills like yellow tires in "Hayrolls and Moon," and cows, their faces purpled in shadow, pick their way carefully down a steep slope in "Cows Coming Down." In "Steep Fields" -- one of the strongest works -- even the fluffy white clouds seem to be headed for a ravine along with the hay, the latter a favored motif in which he excels. He is less successful when he gets into the realm of pure fantasy, as in a painting of flying horses that never gets off the ground.
Better known as a Washington cartoonist, Steiner often successfully employs the language of cartooning in paintings that are fresh and refreshing. The newest series on Washington bridges, however, needs work. This show will continue at Fendrick, 3059 M St. NW, through Friday. Summer hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Ansel Adams Prints
Marie Martin Gallery has one antidote for a steamy urban summer: cooling, classic western landscape photographs by Ansel Adams. Featured is a complete set of silver prints from one of Adams' earliest portfolios, "The Sierra Club Outing, 1929," in which "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome" and other views of Yosemite first appeared. Other images, including the famed "Moonrise, Hernandez" and "Winter Sunrise," are also on view. The show will continue through Aug. 7 at 2427 18th St. NW. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.