HERE'S THE THING about flipping through somebody else's old photo albums: It can be great fun, but if you don't know any of the people in the pictures, it can easily become a pointless exercise.
Not that this was the case at the opening of "Wrinkle Free," a selective 30-year retrospective of photographic portraits by Joe Cameron and Paul Feinberg featuring some of Washington's art-world luminaries. Organized by the Washington Arts Museum and curated by real estate developer and one-time artist Giorgio Furioso, "Wrinkle Free" is a blast. For me, at least, and seemingly for the scores of other artists, art patrons, collectors and hangers-on who crowded into Viridian, an exhibition space that will soon open as a restaurant on the ground floor of Furioso's multi-gallery building in the Logan Circle neighborhood. For us, it felt like a reunion of sorts.
I wonder, though, how anyone not plugged into this scene would respond to these pictures, as technically fine and as psychologically revealing as many of them are. For the cognoscenti, at any rate, it's likely to be with emotions that range from amusement to sorrow. Not bad for a photo show whose winking title plays on one simple fact: that we were all much younger and prettier once.
Look, there's artist Steve Cushner in one shot -- with a head of lush black hair! Oddly enough, his current shaved dome makes him look younger. Over here's Walter Hopps, the former director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art known for his eccentricity, who died earlier this year. Nearby, Carroll Sockwell, the tormented artist who apparently jumped to his death from a bridge in 1992. What intensity in the eyes. What sadness (or is it anger?).
On another wall hangs a portrait of gallery owner Annie Gawlak, replete with what looks like -- ahem -- a potted cannabis sativa plant. Across the way, a portrait of painter Manon Cleary, naked and cigarette in hand. Here, eternally, as in her well-known nude self-portraits, the flesh is always firm.
But what is there to extract from these pictures for those who don't recognize their subjects? To be sure, there's something revelatory about seeing the people who made, and in most cases, still make, the art you love. In this vein, the show includes two portraits of painter Sam Gilliam, who will be feted with a major retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery next month.
But the show's more serious subtext, inherent in its silly title, is best summed up in the Latin motto ars longa, vita brevis. Life, as we are reminded all too frequently here, is short. Art lasts a long time.
WRINKLE FREE -- Through Oct. 22 at Viridian Restaurant, 1515 14th St. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-667-2714. Open weekdays 9 to 5. When the restaurant opens in mid-October, the show will be on view daily during business hours. Free.