"Artists Who Teach," a diverse show at the Federal Reserve Board, brings together Montana-scale sculpture, Iowa clay, photography from Florida and abstract art from Buffalo. The exhibit marks the hundredth anniversary of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.
Two luminaries who teach at such institutions are painter Leon Golub from Rutgers, and photographer Jerry Uelsmann from the University of Florida. Golub is represented here by a token drawing about South Africa. It's his trademark political commentary, but it doesn't approach his paintings in power. In his photo here, Uelsmann, a master of "manipulative" photography, floats a rock-with-doorway in the manner of Magritte. But these single works serve merely to tantalize the viewer; one wants more of Golub and Uelsmann.
The show also shines a light on less known artist-professors -- whether they're teaching to make a living because their paintings aren't selling, or to share something, or to continue to learn.
One of these is Kathryn Myers of the University of Connecticut. Her obsessively fascinating painting of an attic room reminds one of Vela'zquez. It's very dark, but that's right. The mysterious room is about the memories one refuses to discard, about the hopelessness of collecting, of keeping. It is filled with useless things. Feeble Christmas lights drape a rickety bedstead beside a pegboard game that no living person knows how to play. A trompe l'oeil sheet hides the skeletons in the closet.
The necessarily wide range of this show robs it of a certain coherence. No trends, geographic or otherwise, instantly present themselves -- aside from an overall departure from abstraction.
One exception to this is the de Kooning-like work of Thomas Hilty, who teaches at Bowling Green State. If it ever was human, his "Daydreamer" is totally transported -- and transporting. With graphite and pastel, Hilty attempts to depict reveries the way stream-of-consciousness writers attempted to depict thought. The image is literally lost in thought, an overall gray. Yet if you study it long enough, colors heighten to a pink blush in a hypnotic effect.
Among the 52 artists from 39 institutions here, a number of others are well worth noting. William Itter (Indiana University) does a very satisfying "Rustic Relief." With oil and cotton he manages to mimic wood while he mocks it. Italo Scanga (University of California) tells a bright and engaging tall tale with a surrealistic humanoid agglomeration, "Meta II (Duck Landing)." James Davis (University of Arizona) is forcefully antiwar; in this painting of a coffin, a body bag and shipping labels, his "Man in a Box" still has his eyes open.
Not everything is of such high quality. Something in the lobby that at first looked like an antique contraption waiting for the Salvation Army pickup turned out to be part of the show: a "Two-Faced Generatrix Wheel Chair," a Rube Goldberg built for two. And the eternal question of where crafts end and art begins is not answered any better here than anywhere else: A small metal brooch looks out of place, more like something that belongs in the Federal Reserve system.
"Artists Who Teach" will be at the Federal Reserve Board's Eccles Building through Dec. 11. The entrance is on C Street between 20th and 21st streets NW, and the gallery is open 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.
Jo Rango at Gallery K Jo Rango's fantastic beasts are impossible to categorize. Let's just say she's partial to cacti and animals that need a shave. A little Miro', a little Lewis Carroll. What the jabberwocky looked like.
Her paintings and drawings, displayed at Gallery K, are like pages from a bestiary, a medieval natural history book. She catalogues chimeras and evolutionary impossibilities; you have to supply the fables yourself.
They're adult fairy tales. On one level, there are the warm, crayon-box colors. On another, a benign prickliness, of creatures that fly, wriggle and otherwise disport themselves, gives way to malevolent shadow figures, an ominous trinity guarding protoplasm. You are frustrated in your adult attempt to make sense of anything here -- beyond being reminded of those surrealistic photos of microscopic life: the louse, magnified 20,000 times actual size!
"Life as an Acrobat" is one of Rango's few obvious themes. It's a question of scale. A striped creature swings on a rope tied between two objects resembling sea urchins. Just below, a long-legged dinosaur wends its way through the stubble on the hairy surface of Some Body.
But the animals are so bizarre that Rango can eschew subtlety and not suffer for it. The same is true of her self-effacing self-portrait: underneath the wombat mask, another mask with carpenter-nail teeth, crayoned mouth and ice-pick chin, and horns.
Her intricate drawings, enlivened with watercolor, are preferable to the few acrylic paintings here, which sometimes go too far in the direction of stick-figure primitivism. But this is a fun show, and Rango is playful and inventive. Her work will be at Gallery K through Nov. 14.
Georgia Deal at Gallery K
Georgia Deal's "Modern Mythology," also at Gallery K, showcases that artist's considerable talent in works on paper and in it. She does etchings, but her best work is in handmade paper. She literally paints with dyed paper pulp -- and though one often sees this in abstract work, it's unusual to see the process used for figurative subjects. Deal, chairman of the Printmaking and Papermaking Department at the Corcoran, knows her craft and exploits every nub of texture.
This is a self-portrait series. There's a rough-edged elegance to the city woman whose profile dominates many of these works. She's observer, being observed. A whirlwind dogs her -- a metaphor for premonitions, the prospect of change, the phantoms of urban life, whatever Deal chooses. Deal occupies herself with persistent symbols -- high heels, a champagne glass, a palette and a small globe that appears on her shoulder: artist as Sisyphus. She sums up her commentary on a woman's place in "Highwire Act": An acrobat performs between two high rises during an electrical storm.
"Modern Mythology" will be at Gallery K, 2010 R St. NW, through Nov. 14. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.