Two large and comprehensive group shows -- one indoor, one out -- provide the best bets for indulging any aesthetic cravings you might develop this weekend.
"Landmarks," an outdoor exhibit of 40 works of sculpture by 19 members of the Tri State Sculptors' Guild, is one of the better events Strathmore Hall Arts Center has organized in a while. There is some very fine, imaginative work here, dotted about the center's gently rolling grounds -- in fact, most of it is first-rate.
Beginning with William W. Donnan's striking, pierced and twisted reinforced concrete piece, "None As Yet," one of the first pieces you see as you approach the center, the exhibit encompasses a great variety of different materials and aesthetic approaches to contemporary sculpture. There's everything from large, soft fiber work to steel, stone, wood and mixed-media. There is, for example, Linda Ramer's "Mother of Thousands," a large "soft" piece constructed of steel, twine, hay and corn. An unlikely combination, to be sure, but it's a surprisingly impressive work, looking rather like a giant elf's cap dropped carelessly to the ground.
Tim Murray's steel and wood "Fish Gate" is an evocative, templelike work that invites you to contemplate the landscape through the "doorway" in its center. Then there is Jim Gallucci's aluminum, steel and concrete edifice that is in fact titled "Temple," and convincingly communicates an aura of sanctity. Its vaguely Romanesque design and bluish, mottled aluminum external surfaces contrasted with red-painted interiors make for quite a stunning bit of architectural sculpture, resonant of its historical antecedents rather than voguishly appropriative. Smadar Bassan-Yinhar's three-piece arrangement "Secret Garden" is also a strong effort intriguing from every angle. Tom Grubb's big, elegant linear composition "Star Chamber" does nice things with the space around it, particularly when viewed from behind, looking up the hill toward White Flint mall. And Robert Sanabria's towering bronzed steel works are up to their customary quality.
But there are some smaller, more intimate pieces here too, and in some respects they're the best. Jim Hudson's mixed steel and marble -- and sometimes rope -- landscapelike arrangements work well out of doors, despite their relatively small size. They look rather like surreal sundials, or perhaps archaic instruments for calculating the positions of the stars. Roger Halligan's steel and ferro-cement steles are simple and curiously compelling. The seamless melding of the stone with steel girders makes them seem, regardless of materials, almost organic. W.J. Brown's pierced forged-steel piece, "The Passage," is thought-provoking, and Norma Bradley's "On the Road Again," a quiet little octagonal arrangement of squares of earth -- like small Oriental rock gardens -- is a restful and contemplative bit of landscaping.
Of course there are some less than inspiring objects as well. It's inevitable with any show this ambitious, but in this instance these are mercifully few. M.A. Johnson's cast-stone partial torso is a bit of a ho-hummer, as is Alvin Frega's "site-specific" jumble of scrap-metal guardrails posing as a split-rail fence. It looks more like a carelessly discarded pile of junk in the pleasant parkland setting. But go and see this show, for otherwise it's truly a rare collection of excellent sculpture. Gallery K's Summer Show At Gallery K, the annual summer show is a real smorgasbord of mostly graphic works. While perhaps not as well organized or as cohesive as the sculpture exhibit, the show includes all of the gallery's better-known artists, and there are some knockout recent efforts by many of them.
To begin with, a new series of pastel drawings by Richmond-based artist James Baumgardner points to a new trend in this artist's constantly evolving style. Where just a few years back he was painting highly finished surreal interiors filled with all sorts of unlikely creatures and objects seemingly in suspended animation, now he's loosened up considerably. These "Window" pictures, through which we see gesturally rendered, moody land- and seascapes, are among the nicest works he's done in a while.
Jody Mussoff checks in with yet another colored-pencil self-portrait -- one can't help but wish she would try her hand at something new -- and Ed Ahlstrom gives us a lovely little watercolor study of a plant in a tin can, a lemon and a small drawing taped to a wall behind a sideboard. He's one of the best watercolorists around, and can render such mundane subjects in a way that makes them fascinating. And speaking of watercolors, there are a number of fine ones in this show, for example, Kay Ruane's excellent study of rows of flip-flops in the sun, with a reproduction of Raphael's "Disciples" lying across it. Titled "Sola/Saiwalo," the picture's something of an enigma, but it's a well-crafted one.
Diana Detamore offers a series of pastel-over-watercolor images of simple, talismanic subjects against dark backgrounds -- items such as a little bundle of rose stems tied with silver twine, and what looks to be a ship made from a bird's nest. These are strangely affecting works. Continuing this trend in highly personal, intimate imagery, Patrick Craig contributes a haunting little collage titled "Twilight Plumb," made by cutting up and reassembling pieces of painted canvas. And Anders Shafer's clever six-panel painting "History of Futurism" is as absorbing as a good book.
But there are all sorts of other very original pieces here too. Sidney Lawrence, in his customary fashion, offers a large, painted mixed-media wall construction, "Self Portrait as a Family Tree." It's a complicated bit of work, rife with all kinds of personal iconography, but from a distance it actually looks rather like him. Susan Firestone's print, "Hard Choices ... Dreams Out of Context," is bold and eye-catching, and Patricia Bellan-Gillen's delicate composition, "School Girl Hieroglyphics VII, Darkness and Light," is strikingly reminiscent of some of Paul Klee's lyrical mythologies.
Last, but by no means least -- there being 29 artists in this exhibit -- is a truly beautiful modernist abstraction by Rocha Pinto. Titled "Washington #17," this dynamic, modest-sized acrylic of deep blues, brilliant reds and glowing yellows is a regular jewel, and worth a visit all by itself.
Landmarks: Works by members of Tri State Sculptors, at Strathmore Hall Arts Center, 10701 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, through Aug. 17.
Summer Show, at Gallery K, 2010 R St. NW, through July.