ARTISTS HERE have long complained that Washington neglects its own. Washington's museums, they argue, often bypass local talent in order to promote stars from out of town.
The tables may be turning.
* On Tuesday, Jan. 5, an exhibition of 52 works of art -- by as many Washington artists -- opened to the public in Boston's City Hall.
* On Friday, Jan. 15, "Twenty From D.C.," a group show chosen by Howard Fox of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and Marti Mayo, formerly of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, now of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, opened at the artist-run Lawndale Annex, an alternative space in that city.
* On Saturday, Feb. 20, "Washington Photography: Images of the Eighties" -- a show designed to travel -- will begin a lengthy tour at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Though most of the 11 artists represented are well known in this city, the Corcoran's Frances Fralin, who organized the exhibition, feels that only two of them, John Gossage and William Christenberry, have received wide exposure beyond the District Line. "It's time," she says, "that Washington was known for something other than the Redskins and The Washington Post and the Washington Color School." Fralin expects her group show will visit a variety of galleries in Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, California, Texas and Illinois.
* In April, "Washington Iconoclassicism," a show conceived by Washington art writer Lee Fleming and devoted to the art of eight Washington women painters, will go on public view in the Artemisia Gallery, Chicago.
This activity is largely due to the growing usefulness of an informal national network of "alternative art spaces" that already has provided out-of-town exposure to scores of Washington artists.
The 52 artists represented in the Boston City Hall show all belong to the 800-member Washington Women's Art Center, which, since 1979, has arranged exchange exhibits with women's art groups in Chicago, Schenectady, Boulder and Montreal. The Boston show, for instance, was organized by WEB (Women Exhibiting in Boston), an organization whose members will, in turn, display their art here in March.
Both "Twenty From D.C." (the Houston show) and the Chicago display of "Washington Iconoclassicism" have been arranged by the Washington Project for the Arts. Transportation costs for both exhibitions will be covered by Artransport, Robert Lennon's Washington art shipping firm, which intends to help the WPA send three more such local shows on tour.
"Many Washington artists hate being considered 'local artists,' " says WPA director Al Nodal. "They think the term dismissive. Many of them chose to work here because everybody told them that Washington was a major art center. Ironically, they then discovered that it got that reputation because its 'non-provincial' art museums specialize in showing art from out of town. We're trying to help them by using the loosely structured network of some 200 'alternative spaces' or 'artists' spaces' that now exists in the United States."
The WPA long has offered Washington exhibits to artists from other regions. A "Texas Photo Sampler" was displayed there last January. "Lately in L.A.," a 20-artist show of photographs, videotapes and documentation of performance art, will open at the WPA, 400 7th St. NW, on Thursday.
The Washington Women's Art Center has long been in contact with many of the approximately 500 women's art groups now active in this country. "We hope to exchange exhibitions with more and more of them," says Patricia Buck, WWAC's director of exhibitions.
The loosely structured network of "alternative spaces," which Nodal refers to, may soon become more formal. Representatives of many of them will attend the third New Art Space Conference, which will be held here at the WPA in June. "We're discussing the organization of a new national association of alternative art spaces," he said. "In recent years, alternative spaces have become a major element of the country's art-support system. A national organization might accomplish a number of useful things: It would enable participating institutions to help one another; it would give them higher visibility; and it might act as a clearing house for encouraging exchange shows. Traveling exhibits don't organize themselves. You need staff. And money," said Nodal. "We can do much more together than we can alone."