Among the events around town with a Russian motif this week: "A Russian Impressionist: Leonid Pasternak, 1890-1945," has opened at Meridian House. He was the father of the more famous Boris Pasternak, author of "Doctor Zhivago" and winner of the Nobel Prize.
Leonid Pasternak's work will likely never rival the son's in esthetic consideration. But it's hard to tell from this show. Pasternak made his living as a portrait painter -- yet there are few such finished oil paintings among the 60 works here, and what there are seem disappointing. He wasn't the impressionist we think of when we hear the term -- his treatment is more realistic and less experimental and his handling of paint at times verges on clumsy.
It is his drawings that stand out. He was never without his sketchbook, as, in the manner of the French impressionists, he sought out humble household scenes: his wife Rosa making jam, ironing or playing the piano (she had been a concert pianist before marriage), daughter Josephine sewing, daughter Lydia studying. Who knows, he may have been a nuisance, following them around. These drawings are lovingly done, though never sentimental. There is a sense here of a harmonious, bourgeois life, with a few cultured touches.
His preparatory drawings for the portraits in oil that are missing from this show are deft and sensitive. He drew and painted such luminaries as Tolstoy, Einstein (playing the violin) and Rachmaninoff, all friends, as well as the up-and-coming writer Boris Pasternak at 33.
When the elder Pasternak got permission to go to the Kremlin to sketch government figures, around 1920, he captured Lenin at the podium. An unfinished painting from this drawing is among the works here -- it was on the painter's easel when he died, in 1945. It's as if he realized too late what he had in the sketch.
There are a few memorable paintings here. A warm, glowing scene depicts Tolstoy and family seated around a table, under the lamplight; light effects at night always fascinated the artist. Another is a most uncharacteristic painting of his daughters in which he imitates the flattened, patternlike style of Gauguin, and nearly turns the girls into Tahitian natives. But what is considered his personal masterpiece, "A Letter From Home," is back in Moscow at the Tretyakov Gallery.
The works here come from the Pasternak family collections, owned by the two daughters, who live near Oxford, England. They live there now because in 1922 the Pasternaks left the Soviet Union for Berlin, mainly to obtain heart treatments for Rosa. Boris and the younger brother Alexander, an architect, stayed in Moscow. Then, after unsuccessfully attempting to return to the Soviet Union, the family escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 for England. Leonid Pasternak never went back home, but he kept his Soviet citizenship, always hoping to return.
This is the first time the Pasternak collections have been seen in the United States; the exhibition was organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. It will be at Meridian House International, 1630 Crescent Pl. NW, through Jan. 18. Hours are 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday through Friday.
Maxine R. Cable at Gallery 10
The horseshoe crab is one of the planet's survivors -- ugly, fierce-looking, with a sturdy shell that looks like an early model for an armored tank.
Legions of horseshoe crabs are waging war on the United States in Maxine R. Cable's "War and Peace, Love and Death," a show of her evocative installations and assemblages at Gallery 10. Cable gathers found objects for her work: She must have walked the beach for weeks.
Horseshoe crabs and toy soldiers clamber on a "war machine" and scale the requisite beach house wall hanging of fish net. Cleverly fashioned trophies line the walls: The Statue of Liberty rides a carapace; a soldier wears crab camouflage.
The absurdity of war: Horseshoe crabs are harmless.
Another installation is a sort of peace room. The artist transmits her message in mostly natural materials -- a totem pole of basket, bark, fur and wood, and feathers on the floor. Nature holds the answer to coexistence: The animals have won. But here peace is not as interesting as war.
Found objects are difficult by virtue of their very crudeness. We are so used to everything slick, machine-made and new. And when an artist collects them, meaning is subjective; you're not sure you want to go to the trouble of figuring it out, even if you could.
So you look for the work to produce a feeling. "The Last Sniper" does this: The body long since decayed, a lizard now crosses the ammo belt. And "Marriage Shrine" holds together very well, personal associations about marriage in white and off white. On the altar lie crocheted doilies, candles, baby shoes, a family Bible open to "Weddings." Various white gloves dangle from the altar. Continuing the artist's general theme of disintegrations of all kinds, this just looks like an old-fashioned wedding -- grandmother's memories tinged with the Day of the Dead. But under the doily cross on the wall lies a long white object with a small dried flower bouquet. Wrapped in net and thread, like a meal for a spider, is an effigy of the bride.
Cable's work will be at Gallery 10, at 1519 Connecticut Ave. NW, through Dec. 23. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
'A Show of Hands' at Brody's
When word went out that Brody's Gallery was doing "A Show of Hands," hands crawled out of the woodwork: Mittens filled with straw for hanging on the wall. A giant Polaroid of a baby stuffing his huge fist in his mouth. A '60s poster with a border of hands reaching toward a woman in a bikini. A canvas covered with hand prints during a demonstration against the nuclear industry. Everything but Du rer's praying hands, and even they appear in two of the paintings here.
The gallery decided to go ahead and exhibit just about all of it. The result is a hodgepodge, but as fascinating as having your palm read.
Such works should be obsessive. They should dwell on hands. Hands are prime symbols: Here we see them from both sides, in the trash and paired with animal paws. Some raise questions about the nature of art: Jasper Johns' familiar symbols -- letters that spell red, yellow and blue, streaked with a hand print; ceramicist Andrew Lord's print of a Chinese vase smudged with hand marks; and Robert Morris' strange series "Blind Time III," for which a blind woman placed her ink-covered hands on the paper according to the artist's instructions.
In other pieces, the hand appears to float up from the subconscious -- for instance, in Yuriko Yamaguchi's ruby-red etching, which simply radiates and is a hands-down favorite here. But in Andrea Way's drawing "Relay," the hands are played to their fullest. There are strings of hands dotted in between the lines of the personal "counting code" that characterizes her work. The code is in the form of batons, which the hands rhythmically pass back and forth. This is one of Way's best pieces. It was done in homage to her masseuse.
"A Show of Hands" will be at Brody's, 1706 21st St. NW, through Dec. 19. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.,Tuesday through Saturday.
Brody's Gallery and Gallery 10 are two of 18 participants in the Dupont Circle Galleries Walk/Talk, which takes place today from noon to 5. Gallery owners, and in some cases local artists, will be available to discuss the current shows.