"New talent," as conventionally defined in the art business, means youth, relative lack of exposure and, optimistically, freshness of artistic vision.
As freely interpreted by 13 art dealers near Dupont Circle, each unveiling an exhibition devoted to the theme at 11 a.m. today, the definition of "New Talent" is stretched to include an elder statesman of Washington art (Jacob Kainen), a California photographer of sizable reputation (Victor Landweber) and a robust rustic recluse who has been painting seriously for more than 15 years (Jim Costello).
Such inclusiveness is not unwelcome. It adds notes of variety and substance to the annual early summer harvest of new talent, much of which, by definition, needs more time to ripen. The proximity of today's openings is a good idea, too. It makes an enjoyable walking tour and helps, as the dealers intended, "to focus attention on the concentration of fine art galleries" in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.
Darrell Dean and Marle Newcombe, whose works comprise the two-person exhibit at the Baumgartner Gallery (2016 R St. NW), are artists of the type one hopes to come upon in conventional new talent shows. Dean, a 1983 graduate of George Washington University, is pursuing his master's degree there in Turker Ozdogan's exemplary ceramics studios. Newcombe graduated from the Corcoran School in May. Both demonstrate achievement and promise.
Dean's pit-fired stoneware sculptures, superbly installed atop custom-made, white-painted tables, are part of his "Monuments" series, an apt title in that each work, despite its small size, has the architectonic carry of a monument. The forms are inventive and strange -- house-like, cactus-like, beehive-like, sea urchin-like -- and they coexist in a state of precise, wordless tension. Visual and metaphorical wit abounds, but there is very little cuteness. The cumulative effect is quite somber.
Newcombe breathes a bit of fresh life into the shopworn tradition of figurative welded metal sculpture, an unlikely accomplishment due in part to the fact that the individual figures are subsumed in a larger category -- "War Games" -- and in part to her sheer inventiveness in combining (and painting) a potpourri of tools and machine parts. I can't be sure if the combination of satire and horror works with quite the intended force -- the installation was not completed when I viewed the show -- but the artist's talent and skill are not in doubt.
At the other end of the spectrum is an exhibit that dealer Chris Middendorf characterizes as "new talent at the Middendorf Gallery" (2009 Columbia Rd. NW), meaning it includes recent works by four artists newly added to the list of those he represents. This explains the anomaly of Kainen's presence in such an environment: The 75-year-old painter, who arrived in Washington from New York more than four decades ago, has been dealerless, as a painter, since Harry Lunn closed his downtown operation last year. (As a printmaker, Kainen shows up again, along with etcher Mark Leithauser, in the exhibit at the Hom Gallery, 2103 O St. NW. "They're the only living artists I represent," says Jem Hom.)
The other excellent Washington artists at Middendorf -- Tom Green, Yuriko Yamaguchi, Kendall Buster -- are by no means unfamiliar, although Buster, just four years out of the Corcoran School, still more or less fits the customary definition. "Fold," her frieze-like piece consisting of sequential images painted with black or white automobile enamel on aluminum panels, cleanly manipulates positive and negative spaces while portraying, with elegant chilliness, anonymous figures doing battle with archetypal architectural fragments (slabs, doors, arcades, gates).
The Midtown Gallery (1630 Connecticut Ave. NW), like several others, mounted a solo show as its new talent entry. Costello, the beneficiary of this policy, has lived in the Shenandoah Valley for 15 years, balancing his painting hours with money time spent as a building contractor. His headstrong lyricism is evident in his approach to the Virginia countryside -- he likes fast brushwork, overpainting, colors that glow darkly and views that are dramatically framed. These landscape visions, at once nervous and assured, promise repose and deliver ambiguity. His beautifully painted female figures, of which there are but three in the show, possess a similar, haunting quality.
Mary Margaret Pipkin's paintings in the group show at the Addison/Ripley Gallery (8 Hillyer Ct. NW) come as an especially pleasant surprise. With the eye of a naturalist, the skill of an illustrator and the soul of an artist, she paints flowers in full blossom. Her occasional practice of gathering paintings together in an overall decorative grid is questionable, but at her best she is incredibly good.
Patrick McFarlin, a veteran painter from Arkansas (but new to Washington) provides a different sort of surprise in the group show at the Wallace Wentworth Gallery (2006 R St. NW). With utter conviction, as well as practiced skill, he paints convincingly high-heat figurative canvases in an Expressionist style that dates back to the '50s. Breton Morse, among the wittier, if lesser known, of the Washington Color painters, shows up in a group at Gallery K (2032 P St. NW) in the none too prepossessing guise of a satirical figurative painter. One can only wish him well -- Morse hardly made dime one as an Abstractionist.
Artist Noche Crist selected most of the group exhibition at Gallery 10 (1519 Connecticut Ave. NW), and her somewhat wicked, witty, socially conscious taste is much in evidence. It's there somewhere in Sharon Arthur's eerie, primitive-like figurative paintings, in Carol Gigliotti's passionate disquisitions concerning animal rights, in Kathleen Jardine's stuffed-to-the-gills feminist watercolor paintings, and even in Kristine Aono's concise constructions, at once humorous and sad, dealing with the ambiguities of life as a Japanese-American.
Works by eight photographers from Los Angeles comprise the exhibition at the Jones Troyer Gallery (1614 20th St. NW) -- a fresh, fascinating wind from the West in which technical experimentation (usually of a high order) is mixed with what seems, at this distance, a very Angeleno take on the state of the world as well as of the art. Landweber, a much-exhibited artist, is the granddaddy of this group, here showing collaged panoramic landscape images that, while being tiny and exquisitely placed on the page, provide an immense amount of visual data. Lewis DeSoto's wondrous time exposure photograph of a (literally) starlit house under the dome of a night sky is a special treat.
The mixed group of photographs at the Kathleen Ewing Gallery (1609 Connecticut Ave. NW) does not have the same thematic sort of flair, but the quality is good. David Graham, for instance, experiments successfully with night lighting in color photographs, achieving unusual, eerie perspective effects. William Fuller doesn't do anything many photographers haven't done before in his black and white images of cities or desert landscapes, but the precision of the compositions and the beauty of the prints are redeeming compensations.
Foon Sham, a talented young wood sculptor, is featured with two recent pieces at the Marsha Mateyka Gallery (2012 R St. NW). New paintings by Leya Evelyn, an abstract painter who gives unusual density to her colors but whose works, nonetheless, seem somewhat inert, make up the solo show at the Henri Gallery (1500 P St. NW). The Abstract Expressionist attack in Deirdre Saunder's paintings at the Touchstone Gallery (2130 P St. NW) may be old hat, but her cutout figures, aggressively covered with slashing, skeletal strokes of black paint, are impassioned, impressive, up-to-the-minute icons.
Brody's Gallery, which has become a headquarters for Neo-Expressionism (graphics division) in its two-year existence, is unhappily hors de combat on this new talent D-Day. Even so, troopers Tom and Judy Brody, who will be spending the summer readying their new row house location (1706 21st St. NW) for a fall opening, say they will post themselves outside this afternoon, offering lemonade to footsore art sloggers.
Minimum hours today for each of the galleries are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. A few of the exhibitions will close in mid-July; most will remain on view through July 27.