Vienna's Arnulf Rainer, an artist well regarded in some European circles, gets million-dollar prices for his more important pictures, and while one might think that such success would soothe him, there is no trace of contentment in his exhibition at Jones Troyer, 1614 20th St. NW. The images displayed (many are self-portraits) grimace, writhe and howl.
Rainer's "photoworks" combine the horrific with the elegant, but the horrific stabs you first. Death masks, catatonics, Gru newald's contorted Christ, and his own contorted face, are the images he starts with. He then draws upon these photographs, perhaps scribbles is a better word, sometimes with such violence he tears the coated paper. These images contrast figuration with abstraction, document with gesture. The result, writes Joshua P. Smith, who curated the show, is "a kind of primal scream."
While Vienna's art has screamed since the days of Egon Schiele, that city's postwar artists, with Rainer in the lead, have polished that esthetic to a dark and hideous sheen. Vienna's Hermann Nitsch sometimes breaks his skin and paints with his own blood. The late Rudolph Schwarzkogler earned his fame through bondage and self-mutilation. In 1951, Rainer opened an exhibit by hurling insults at his guests. In his further efforts "to discover the 'Untermensch' within me," Rainer, 58, has ingested heavy drugs, and spent time with psychotics, and painted not with brushes but with his hands and feet.
He claims to "detest the art of photography." He has nonetheless invested it with a kind of perverse chic. His scribbles and his scratches seem as innocent -- and scary -- as the tantrums of a child. His markings gain their elegance from their unforced freedom; there's a lightness to his hand.
The superimposition of arbitrary images -- thanks to Schnabel, thanks to Salle -- has become in recent years a wan cliche'. Rainer's layerings aren't like that. He is never supercilious. It is as if the death faces he shows us had peered into the void and -- through those scrawlings added to them -- done their best to speak. The show closes March 12.
James Hilleary at Carroll's
The Washington Color School is history, that's pretty well agreed. Morris Louis, Howard Mehring, Tom Downing, Gene Davis, Alma Thomas, Leon Berkowitz, all of them are dead. If you think about their pictures -- blending in the memory Berkowitz's colored fogs, Louis' grand "Veils," Downing's "Dials," Mehring's "Zs" -- you can just about imagine the paintings of James Hilleary now on view in Georgetown at Susan Conway Carroll's, 1058 Thomas Jefferson St. NW.
Those artists were his colleagues. More than 20 years ago Hilleary was showing his stained acrylic pictures with Berkowitz, Davis, Downing, Mehring and Paul Reed at Henri's. Hilleary has not had a one-man show in Washington since 1978. He says, "I did not intend to be absent so long. It just happened." It's good to have him back.
Most of the large paintings here were begun in 1979 and revised last year. Time, and something else, seems compressed within them. He often makes you think of two artists at once. The granular-but-airy colors of his "Capricorn" suggest those of Berkowitz, while the picture's composition looks something like a "Veil" that's been turned upside down. Hilleary doesn't use masking tape, he doesn't like hard edges, but his painted mists frequently contain chevrons much like Kenneth Noland's and rows of marching stripes.
That softening, that blending, is what one remembers most from his exhibition. His paintings have about them a kind of quiet music, and while they summon ghosts, they do so with such integrity that one almost never thinks that's just a pastiche. Also in the gallery are a number of his small "Alta Series" conte' drawings from 1975. Each suggests a structured glow. They are among the nicest works on view. His show closes March 6.
Views of Washington and Manhattan
Washington, it's said, is a stiffly ordered city, modest in its scale, conscious of its history, conversant with the past. Manhattan is, in contrast, a place of energy and flash. Two contrasting exhibitions now at 406 Seventh St. NW turn those old cliche's around.
The Osuna Gallery is showing "Realizing the Monument," a show of watercolor-and-beeswax paintings by Ray Kass. Washington is his subject -- but a Washington that's taken on a wildness, a peculiar sweep and glare. Kass, who lives in Blacksburg, Va., somehow makes our marble monuments dance as if alive. Snakes writhe on his pediments. Columns bend and sway. Unexpected slogans replace the noble words engraved on their facades. His watercolor paintings (they're on paper mounted on canvas) have the feel of electric-bright batiks. If you think the colors of the Mall are mostly whites and grassy greens, look at his "Potomac With Monuments." Memorial Bridge is fiery red, the river emerald green. His show closes March 8.
A different sort of show, filled with reverie and quiet, is on view at David Adamson's. Its spirit is conservative, and on the whole historical. The 33 objects on display all depict New York.
Of 21 artists showing, many are well known. Richard Estes is represented by one of his midtown silk screens (in this the reflections from his familiar plate glass storefronts catch a mural by Alex Katz). A prewar lithograph by Louis Lozowick shows skaters in Central Park. Another, by Fairfield Porter, shows traffic on Sixth Avenue. "A Glimpse Over Manhattan at Night," a three-dimensional print by Yvonne Jacquette, depicts the south tip of the island as one might see it from the window of the shuttle. Philip Pearlstein, best known for his icy nudes, is represented by "View Over Soho, Lower Manhattan" (1978), an aquatint whose mood, unexpectedly, is affectionate and warm.
Of the more experimental artists here, three are Washingtonians. Kevin MacDonald, Michael Clark and Joe White all depict bits of New York buildings. Their works share nothing else, though all three play together in the rock group Twisted Teenage Plot. William Newman's "The Last Marathon" (1984) shows a crowd of panting athletes either running from, or oblivious to, an exploding atomic bomb.
The newest pictures on display might be mistaken for the oldest. They are 1987 etchings by Frederick Mershimer that depict, with much precision, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and other New York sights as they might have been portrayed, say by Martin Lewis, half a century ago. "Views of Manhattan" (the show's a little treat) closes March 6.