Lubber Run Park in west Arlington -- a quiet strip of woods that's like heaven for chipmunks, and also is enjoyed by kids, joggers, strollers and picnickers -- has this summer become a more interesting place thanks to the county's parks department, which commissioned four Arlington sculptors to create temporary works there. Each of the artists -- Jerry Monteith, Lawley Paisley-Jones, Lynn Schmidt and Mel Watkin -- responded to the site differently and inventively.
Paisley-Jones' concept is especially intriguing, although thunderstorms on two occasions have swept away important parts of the art. Her idea was to turn the little creek into a setting for an open-ended narrative, very much as schoolchildren might do on a lazy afternoon, by placing blackened cutouts of whales' tails or of submarine conning towers at key points along its meandering course. The juxtaposition of such deep-sea elements with shallow Lubber Run is in itself provocative, but the real strength of the piece is that it capitalizes on essential attributes of the place -- the linear nature of the park, the flow of the stream -- and thus intensifies our perceptions of it.
Similarly, Watkin perceived a relationship between the narrowness of the park and the directional flow of a story line, but her focus is on the trunks of the tall trees bordering the single paved pathway. Treating the trees as signposts, she suspended pairs of signs from adjacent trees, signs such as might be found extending from village shops. These signs, however, attempt metaphorically to advertise life's pitfalls: One carefully depicts hands holding a filled urn; its companion shows the urn's contents being spilled. The effect is surreal, but the meaning is ambiguous. I'm not sure whether she intended the don't-cry-over-spilled-milk effect of a visitor's being able to reverse directions, and thus to see the liquid safely back into its container.
Monteith and Schmidt, by contrast, created free-standing sculptures. Monteith's work, "Serrate," is a big, closed object made of green-colored pressed board and set in a glade. Its sides swell as those of an upside-down boat would; its peaked top is cut by battlementlike serrations; its ends angle outward ominously. It is a strong image that can be interpreted in lots of ways: as a dangerous tool or weapon, a fragment of a massive barricade, a strange house without doors or windows, a pleasantly odd-looking tent.
Schmidt's idea was to reflect, via abstraction, certain timeless characteristics of the woods -- the structure of the trees and the light-dappled shade. Her white-painted piece consists of a big cylindrical tube from which sprouts a cluster of supple stems of wooden lath. It's a gentle, poetic conception, though the actual artifact is a bit lightweight: There's a demonstrable risk in taking on objects so grand as these surrounding oaks, maples, buckeyes. (Although I was lucky enough to see it in something approaching its original state, the piece has been systematically vandalized. Only 15 or so of the 40 original "limbs" remain unbroken. The artist is considering painting it black.)
There's a lot to be said for such temporary installations of public art. They stimulate the artists and the users of a place (though chipmunks may not take too much notice) and they avoid the big problems (as well as the expenses) of commissioning permanent works. Lubber Run Park, whose waters, unfortunately, are of a suspicious, gluey translucence, extends for about a half-mile between George Mason Drive and Arlington Boulevard (Route 50). The artworks will remain in place there until Labor Day.
Duncan Tebow at Foxley/Leach Duncan Tebow's polychrome abstract sculptures, on view in the terraced back yard of the Foxley/Leach Gallery (3214 O St. NW), are elegant in conception, edgy in effect. They are made for the most part of store-bought angle irons that have been painted with low-intensity hues, sawed into pieces of varying lengths and then reassembled with welds or bolts into zigzag planes that play against each other at precarious angles, or crisp, sharp lines that spiral through space. Actually quite studied in their explorations of spatial relationships, the pieces have a nervous, rough-and-ready look. It is an effective, heady contrast of stability with movement, stately rhythm with jangling syncopation. Through mid-August.
Virginia Landscape Raymond Berry is a standout in "The Virginia Landscape: Five Contemporary Views," an exhibition organized by Elena Canavier for a developer to celebrate the opening of a new office building in Arlington. Berry's paintings are close-up representations of a stream and its bordering rocks near Charlottesville. His attack is brushy, impressionistic, and the results are full of energy and subtly luminous. The colors and lush surfaces are remindful of Philip Guston's beautiful abstract paintings done in the 1950s, but one never loses consciousness here of the subject and the content -- the ever-changing moods of a particular place.
Kate Curry's close-up views of brilliant flower beds are wonderfully expressive -- her impassioned, rapid-fire approach is better suited, in fact, to these riotous entanglements than to her more conventional views of tropical settings. Ann Chenoweth's landscapes are eerily intellectualized; in a stylized manner she plays with ambiguities of spatial and linguistic perception. Janet Niewald's Virginia scenes are Ce'zannesque in color and structure. Victor Huggins' mystical evocations of Virginia's blue-ridged countryside are a bit too earnest to be thoroughly convincing. The exhibition continues through Aug. 18 at Courthouse Place, 2000 N. 14th St., Arlington.
Diane Tesler at Haslem Diane Tesler takes her romantic landscape sensibility to America's back-road junkyards in a series of paintings, "Veterans of the Road," on view at the Haslem Gallery (406 Seventh St. NW). The old Mercs, Hudsons and so on in these skillful paintings are bathed in a glowing, soft, nostalgic light; there's an autumnal air even to her midsummer pictures. Jerrald Balance's landscapelike abstract expressionist paintings are tours de force in a method usually associated with folk art -- called hinterglasbilder (behind-glass-paintings) in Germany, where the technique has a long history. Balance paints on the back of Plexiglas sheets; the textural and color effects he gets are spectacular and, up to a point, moving. This two-person show ends today.
Summer Show at McIntosh The summer group show at McIntosh/Drysdale Gallery (also 406 Seventh St. NW) contains new works by four artists: Tom Green, Bonnie Printz, Steve Frietch and Brian Kavanagh. Green's familiar, quirky, authoritative mix of narrative, abstract, biomorphic and hard-edged elements is demonstrated again in paintings such as "Misterioso." Printz, a newcomer, adds a deft and joyous sense of color to a basically minimalist vocabulary in paintings such as "Summer" and "In My Dreams." Frietch's encaustic-on-canvas constructions are puzzling, though strong, emblems. Kavanagh's paintings are ambitious, but confusing. There's just too much going on in them, stylistically and thematically -- several varieties of representation, line drawing, geometrical abstraction, impressionist passages, concrete poetry and more. His recent etchings, available for viewing on request, are by contrast delicate, personal and cohesive. Through July.