At this point, it's doubtful any Washington area art fan is unaware that the city is once again hosting the International Sculpture Conference. You can hardly miss it. The stuff is all over town -- on the streets and, of course, in the galleries. Whether such a blitz of three-dimensional art is a good thing is debatable, for after looking at literally hundreds of works of wildly varying styles and merits in dozens of galleries, you may find it hard to remember which sculptures were whose.
Still, there are a number of exhibits and individual sculptures that stand out above the visual din of bronze and steel, plastic and glass, stone and wood and ceramic. So rather than simply list the many exhibits -- good or bad -- let me point you toward several shows I found entertaining or inspiring. It's interesting to note that while much of the outdoor work sponsored by the ISC is political in nature and deeply concerned with environmental issues, most of the work in the galleries is personal and aesthetic.
It will take you the better part of a day to see all of these, as some are downtown, some in Georgetown and others in the Dupont Circle area. But they're worth the visit, and there are Metro stops fairly close by all but the Georgetown galleries. For those, you have to walk from the Foggy Bottom station. Steven Bickley at the Phillips Stop by the front of the Phillips Collection to check out Steven Bickley's three distinctive -- if in some respects downright odd -- mixed-media sculptures. Part of the Phillips's 1989-90 Outdoor Sculpture Program, Bickley's pieces seem to be altars of sorts, like the works of several other artists participating in this event, inspired by ancient standing stones and various ritual markers. Van Alstine and Lew
Both John Van Alstine, whose sculpture can be seen at the Franz Bader Gallery, and Richard Lew, at the David Adamson Gallery, work in much the same vein. Like Bickley, they construct their sculpture with different metals, stone and other materials. Lew's graceful "Votive Offering #14 (Virgin Spring)" and others of his comprehensive exhibit are fine examples of this aesthetic. Gayil Nalls at Baumgartner
Gayil Nalls, whose show "GOVERNMENTnature" is on view at the Baumgartner Gallery, takes a somewhat different approach. While her cast bronzes generally have been concerned with organic subjects (and here she does have some such pieces cast from palm fronds and other materials), the most striking works in this show are a group of standing headstonelike plaques of titanium. Chris Gardner at Osuna
At Osuna Gallery, a sizable collection of Chris Gardner's funky and dynamic small bronzes make plain just how many things an inventive artist can do with very simple shapes. Most of these were cast from Styrofoam working studies for his large, and by now familiar, outdoor pieces composed of arrow shapes and other forms. And at Henri Gallery there's a veritable olio of works by 20 very different artists. Of these the most impressive are James Hagan's lovely painted wood piece "Landscape," Italo Scanga's vaguely cubist composition "Metaphysical" and Louis Mueller's quietly elegant metal wall piece "The Girl From Between the Trees." Ichikawa & Frank at Anton
Mueller's "Girl" is reminiscent of Tazuko Ichikawa's lyrically compelling wood sculptures on view at Anton Gallery. These are wall pieces made from the simplest of elements, such as blocks and strips of black painted or varnished wood, and occasionally lengths of rope. Also at Anton is a collection of new works by Mary Annella Frank. These imaginative bronze, marble, wood and gold leaf pieces are some of her best. Particularly see her large basketlike construction "The Almost Perfect Dream" and her oddly fascinating bronze "Pyramid II: Present Tense."
Peter Stevens at Addison/Ripley
Graceful and intensely intellectual too are the stone and metal compositions of Peter Stevens at Addison/Ripley Gallery. This artist's style -- vaguely architectural and hauntingly intimate -- strongly recalls Giacometti's early surrealist work. "Passage" is a particularly engaging arrangement of steel and bronze planes, balls and simple frames. Of the works of three sculptors featured at the B.R. Kornblatt Gallery, the installation "Revival Field" by Mel Chin deserves special mention. It consists of a large chain-link fence gate, behind which the artist has constructed an inventive table-top sculpture and an accompanying drawing of what looks to be a model for some sort of military compound, possibly a missile silo. I don't know what it all means, but it's interesting nonetheless. Group Show at Fendrick
There's another ambitious group show at the Fendrick Gallery. Maybe a bit too ambitious. It's hard to view work such as, say, Walter Dusenbery's typically simple but strong yellow travertine ring, "Aurora," next to the slickly finished furniture- and architectural-fitting-like works of Wendell Castle or Clement Meadmore. This is not to say these aren't good craftsmen -- in fact they're among the best -- but the juxtaposition detracts from the power of purely aesthetic works by Dusenbery and John Ruppert. Still the show is recommended for these two. Wayne Edson Bryan
The installation of Wayne Edson Bryan's intricate and fascinating painted sculptural reliefs at Brody's Gallery is one of the most delightful exhibits going on this week. He's a highly original artist whose work, crammed with symbolic imagery that ranges from match flames and guns to fish-net-stockinged legs and singing birds, is totally unlike anything else you're likely to see during the conference. Be sure to check it out.
There are many, many more exhibits in tandem with the ISC event, all over the city, some good, some so-so, some, well ... But if you make the effort to get out to the galleries, you'll see at least one example of just about every trend in contemporary sculpture. Tazuko Ichikawa and Mary Annella Frank, at Anton Gallery, 2108 R St. NW, through June 30.
Sculpture 90, at Fendrick Gallery, 3059 M St. NW, through July 31.
Peter Stevens, at Addison/Ripley Gallery, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW, through July 14.
20 Sculptors, at Henri Gallery, 1500 21st St. NW, through Aug. 31.
Richard Lew, at David Adamson Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW, through July 10.
Gayil Nalls: GOVERNMENTnature, at Baumgartner Galleries, 2016 R St. NW, through June 23.
Steven Bickley: Three Sculptures, at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW, through Aug. 26.
Wayne Edson Bryan: Paranoias, at Brody's Gallery, 1706 21st St. NW, through June 30.
Chris Gardner, at Osuna Gallery, 1919 Q St. NW, through July 7.
Mel Chin, Erik Levine and Manuel Neri, at B.R. Kornblatt Gallery, 406 Seventh St. NW, through July 28.