Arts Interaction, an enterprising group of Washington area artists, has organized an exchange of exhibitions with a group of artists from Hungary. The timing was right -- the Hungarian half of the exchange, on view at the Botswana Club above the main gallery of the Washington Project for the Arts, coincides with the appearance here of "Expressiv," a major show of art from central Europe at the Hirshhorn Museum.
Not surprisingly, there are no obvious connections between the art in "Six Artists From Budapest" and that of the four Hungarian artists in the Hirshhorn exhibition. Indeed, this group itself is exceedingly mixed in age (64 to 28), style, philosophic preoccupation and degree of accomplishment.
Andras Lazar dominates the show, at least in the number of works on view. His paintings appear on practically every wall, and in an array of guises -- he's saying goodbye to cubism in one work, and hello to Chagall, Rouault, Modigliani in others. He can, however, be quite a strong, individualistic painter, especially when focusing on a singular head or torso, as in the riveting "Starry Wound" or a half-length self-portrait done in wonderful, brushy grays.
By contrast, there are only four small paintings by F. Istvan Zambo on view, and they're all of a curious, affecting piece. Zambo's style is intentionally primitive; he delineates strangely transformed figures or objects on a white ground, as if it were a stone tablet. This is an effective means for him to tell somewhat mystifying, but poignantly disconcerting, stories about the modern world. There's a certain inevitable thwartedness in the way his figures react to situations such as a book weighted down with heavy stones (in "Gravity"), or a tall building pulled up by its roots (in "Life-Love-Death").
Geza Furjan, the eldest of these artists, clearly is an accomplished painter of the human figure. Most of his works here, though, are mere sketches made with a heavily loaded brush; only one, the impastoed "Woman in White Dress," leaves a lasting -- and haunting -- impression. Tibor Jakob, the youngest, exhibits humorously transformed found objects -- a tea kettle, for instance, to which a zoom lens and earphones have been attached. This is called "Observatory."
Akos Koltay is the neoexpressionist here. His subjects, like his colors and paint handling, are intense, fiery -- the nail is painfully extracted from Christ's foot in "Fallen Star of Bethlehem." Eva Skoda is a competent painter, as quiet as Koltay is loud, but she seems stuck doing an art-academy sort of cubist figuration.
There are no useful generalizations to be drawn from such a show. I daresay Hungarian critics will react similarly to the Washington art they see in Budapest this fall. Artists participating will be Teresa Ahmann, John Antone, Richard Blackmore, Ruth Bolduan, Arthur Cadieux, Kathleen Connell, Donald Davidson, Bobby Donovan, Eleanor Juliano, Kathy Keler, John Krumrein, Madalyn Marcus, Paul Spratlin, James Thatcher and Alan Wald.
"Six Artists From Hungary" continues through March 4 at 434 Seventh St. NW. Like the Hirshhorn's "Expressiv," it was supported in part by a grant from the Soros Foundation of New York.
Katharine Steele Renninger at Mickelson
Katharine Steele Renninger continues to do what she has been doing for two decades, only better. Her subject is automatically nostalgic -- the faded barns, houses, shops, chairs, tools, salt-glaze pots, etc., of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where she lives -- and her take on it is loving but clear-eyed.
Renninger's quietly beautiful recent paintings are on view at the Mickelson Gallery, 709 G St. NW. As in the past, the compositions are primarily frontal, with everything locked into a certain place, but there's a new spatial complexity here, too -- reflections in the storefront windows intensify the game. There's also a new simplicity in her paintings of old biscuit boxes, closely focused almost to the trompe l'oeil point.
But if Renninger appears to have learned from looking at new art (Estes, Cottingham) and old (Peto, Harnett), she's maintained her own distinctive mood. She creates a special, ruminative sort of texture with accumulations of tiny brush strokes; her palette remains muted but richly varied; and most of all, with her delicate application of casein to canvas, she creates a wintry light that seems perfectly suited.
The exhibit continues through March 5.
Robert A. Nelson at Gallery K
Robert A. Nelson is truly a virtuoso draftsman. Confronting any of his pictures at Gallery K, 2010 R St. NW, one can get lost in admiration for the way he renders a foreshortened foot, say, or the corner of a dog's mouth gripping a bone. He's also a wood carver and assembler of note, a ceramicist, a collagist and a stupendous illustrator of his own fantasies, as this broad compilation of recent works attests. (The only aspect of Nelson's work it ignores is the prints for which he is best known.)
But all of this splendid technique is tiresome, too, because it's so often put in the service of trite imaginings -- when the "Tin Woodman Spills Out Lunch" the lunch is, natch, undigested -- or it's given a Larry Rivers-like gloss of sophistication, or it's blown up to supersize. He's really at his best on a small scale -- the "Roxanne" comic strip is silly, but the silliness, like the drawing, is inspired. Through March 19.
Thanassis Akrivopoulos at Zygos
Thanassis Akrivopoulos, an Athenian painter whose works are on view at the Zygos Gallery, 403 Seventh St. NW, through today, is a magic realist of some skill and force. His narratives are played out on surfaces as white as the walls of houses in an Aegean village; this helps to concentrate the mind on their surrealistic social critiques. He pokes at modern man, and woman, and the modern condition -- we know the sharply shadowed bugs here have a better chance than the recurrent trio of males with their briefcases and Magritte bowler hats.
Betsy Packard at Anton
Betsy Packard's show at the Anton Gallery, 2108 R St. NW, also closes today. It consists, mainly, of "paintings" made with melted wax and found objects on wood surfaces. The technique fits her preoccupation with a very personal kind of measuring and taking account -- she often incises regular marks into the wax, with dates and other almost-legible sorts of notation. There is an especially satisfying wall where all of the surfaces, or at least the frames, are gilded, like icons. The pieces, at once elegant and rough-hewn, are quietly, modestly stirring.