This fall, while D.C. museums go for the crowds with shows of Edward Hopper and J.M.W. Turner at the National Gallery of Art, Ansel Adams at the Corcoran Gallery, "WACK!" at the Museum of Women in the Arts and, in November, Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib paintings at American University Museum, you have to hand it to the galleries -- they know how to pump up the art adrenaline.
Case in point: the opening night along 14th Street on Sept. 15, 2007.
The 1515-14th Street building always rocks on these occasions. Friends and admirers of D.C. mixed-media artist Renée Stout jammed Hemphill Fine Art to see her heady mix of potions, spirits and magic tricks a la Betye Saar, down-and-out streetscapes, rusty objects, genteel Afro-Victorian parlors, narrative graphite drawings and a new, revealing series of self-portrait photos. The aura of black D.C. permeated this show, refreshingly. The show remains on view Sept. 15-Oct. 27, 2007; the works are priced from $1,400 to $9,500.
Downstairs at Adamson Gallery, it was all about technique -- and a touch of celebrity worship -- with an exhibition of a variety of different works by Chuck Close. The show is particularly distinguished by portrait tapestries of himself and fellow artists Lorna Simpson and Cindy Sherman, as well as the fashion model Kate Moss. Owner David Adamson and California’s Magnolia Editions made the hangings from Close’s daguerreotypes via "17,800 wrap threads and repeating groups of eight colors" (yikes). Fabric or not -- and yes, they dematerialize as you get close -- to confront a sweaty, sheeny, emotionless, cadaver-like black-and-white face at this scale is totally disarming, and even though "soft," a curious return to Close’s first huge portraits of the late 1960s (Sept. 15-Oct. 20, 2007; $75,000 to $95,000 for the tapestries).
By contrast, at the adjacent Curator’s Office, overseen by dealer Andrea Pollen, are lushly colored, wildly expressive ink-and-acrylic drawings by Korean-born, Atlanta-based Jiha Moon that look like fantastic Asian scroll landscapes, populated with ribbon-like dragons and birds, as if painted by Arshile Gorky (Sept. 15-Oct. 27; $3,000-$22,000).
D.C. artist Ian Whitmore’s Neo-Baroque, de Kooning-esque paintings at G Fine Art (Sept. 15-Oct. 27; $8,000-$22,000) also fuse abstraction and representation. Glimpses of hunt-and-kill imagery -- a tied up lamb, a snarling hyena, Salem witches, meat canapés -- seem to emerge amid stormy paint strokes (speaking of kill, although the show’s sidebar piece, "Monomania Portraits," portray Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush relatively innocuously, they still look like war criminals).
Enjoying herself among the throng at G Fine Art was tall, graceful Olga Viso, who is on her way from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where she has been director, to take the helm at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. "I’m sad to leave," she admitted, "but the opportunity was hard to resist. The Walker’s multidisciplinary focus in visual and performing arts, film and media was particularly appealing to me." Viso’s new job starts "in the dead of January," she added with a chuckle.
But a warm D.C. night welcomed Viso and others outside, where Jane Jerardi’s series of dreamy vignettes of youthful encounters in a city, "Chance Dance," was projected on the bumpy brick side of the 1515 building. The Transformer space across the street, which coordinated Jerardi’s piece, has a taut, five-artist show titled "Sass," clearly organized in sympathy with the arrival in town of "WACK!" Male gazes might be particularly startled by the torture-chamber beauty-parlor contraptions of Amanda Douglas, who hails from Lexington, Ky., and porn-cum-landscape photograph montages by Danniel Swatosh of New York (Sept. 15-Oct. 20, 2007; $600 to $11,000).
Irvine Contemporary down the street, by the way, has some news. Owner Martin Irvine has added to his stable the New-York-based media artist, musician and writer Paul D. Miller, otherwise known as DJ Spooky, a D.C. native and graduate of Howard University. A solo show for Miller in April 2008 -- enhanced,
Back to 14th Street -- the trek continues to Randall Scott Gallery, where large-format color photos by Chicago artist Nathan Baker bring viewers into a discomfiting world of small domestic accidents. Hot pink Pepto-bismol, a fired-up barbeque, an ashtray full of butts, a decorator vase, a bathtub with running water and a half-opened can of cherries overturn, spill, break or otherwise cause a "rupture" (the show’s title). The lush, larger, people-less vignettes are vertiginous doll-houses; smaller prints show what you might call slobs, plus a meticulous gay man, reacting in stunned, expressionless silence to various catastrophes. The hell is excruciating (Sept. 15-Oct. 20, 2007; $3,500-$7,500).
D.C. art mavens had still more to look forward to after the galleries closed -- For the Capitol, Jenny Holzer’s site-specific spectacle across town at the Kennedy Center, running until midnight in four daily showings. Seen from the complex’s waterfront terrace, two monumental projected texts moved majestically upwards, like reverse movie credits, from the Potomac River to Theodore Roosevelt Island, a nature sanctuary. Holzer sidestepped truisms in favor of quotes from presidents, such as JFK’s "If art is to house the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free" and Teddy Roosevelt’s "to waste, to destroy the natural resources. . . will result in undermining. . . our culture." The piece was dazzling.
Not just a town of monuments, D.C. also has gallery hot spots, and it looks like there is a new one on the horizon. Conner Contemporary, long a staple of the Dupont Circle family of galleries, is moving some three miles across town to a 12,000-square-foot former auto body shop in Washington’s Northeast Quadrant. Bought for $1.4 million and now being renovated, the space will house Leigh Conner’s much expanded gallery as well as a laboratory offshoot named *gogo art projects. A number of experimental theaters and hip bars have already opened on nearby H Street in this predominantly black, working-class neighborhood. Sound familiar?
For the time being, Project 4, located adjacent to the U Street jazz corridor in Northwest’s "Little Ethiopia," is showing Parisian photographer Cedric Delsaux’s icily specific, sharp-focus Lambda prints. Some of his photos wittily impose Star Wars robots amid bleak industrial settings, giving Berndt and Hilla Becker a run for their formalist money. Others are landscapes set in the Alps or Morocco’s Atlas mountains, reflecting a current trend for dwarfing people and dwellings in natural grandeur. But the image that really resonates depicts a wave’s splash in midair against a pattern of clouds, taken from a concrete breakwater in Lille, France. Wow! Gustave Courbet lives! The show is on view Sept. 15-Oct. 20, 2007; the works are priced at $3,500-$4,500.
Over on gay-friendly 17th Street, Meat Market Gallery (across from the D.I.K. Karaoke Bar -- a moniker that is shorthand for, ahem, for Dupont Italian Kitchen) opened the late-summer season with a small, evocative show of carved and painted wood sculptures by Richmond-based artist Benjamin Jurgensen (Aug. 31-Sept. 30, 2007; $2,500 for each sculpture). The sculptor replicates the shape of everyday items (a turntable, folding chair, fire extinguisher, car door, stanchion, pine tree air fresheners) but recolors and conjoins them into anthropomorphic compositions that can be very disturbing -- a tender couple, someone throwing up, a sex act. Here are glimpses of Robert Gober, but looming larger are the poetic objects of Martin Puryear, a native who started his career here.
Morris Louis (1912 -1962), another hometown hero, may not draw the crowds of a Hopper or an Adams, but many consider him the best painter of the Washington Color School. The retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum, Sept. 20-Jan. 6, 2008, which debuted at the High Museum in Atlanta, makes a case with "Veils," "Florals," "Unfurleds," "Stripes" and such eccentric individual works as tie-dyed-seeming Para III (1958). Louis’ work has a studied, oozing turbulence to it, capturing both a spirit of abandon and seeming terribly controlled. No wonder catalogue essayist Alexander Nemerov casts Louis as "The Court Painter of the Kennedy Era." (Note to arcana fans: Nemerov’s aunt was photographer Diane Arbus.)
A final note, a plug, really, in our roundup: next year Hirshhorn contemporary curators Ann Ellegood, Kelly Gordon and Kristin Hileman, with department head Kerry Brougher, present an ambitious, two-part exhibition, "The Cinema Effect," stretching from mid-February to Labor Day. Brougher conceived the project as a follow-up to his influential art-and-film show at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in 1996.
"Film made serious inroads on art during the postwar period," says Brougher, "but the subject is far from closed. Our society has been inexorably altered by video culture and the internet, and there is great confusion about what is real and what is illusion. We want to show a new generation of film and media artists, working globally, tackling these issues. "
The sequential segments, called "Dreams" and "Realisms," will represent some 40 artists, among them Chiho Aoshima of Japan, Rodney Graham of Canada, Candice Breitz of Berlin and South Africa, Tony Oursler of the U.S., Pierre Huyghe of France, Runa Islam of Bangladesh and Francesco Vezzoli of Italy.
Will there be a new director at the Hirshhorn to oversee this sound-and-light extravaganza? With Viso at the Walker, Kathy Halbreich at the Museum of Modern Art and more hopscotching to come, who knows?
SIDNEY LAWRENCE is a Washington-based artist and writer. He is guest curator for "Roger Brown: Southern Exposure," now on view at the Jule Collins Smith Museum in Auburn, Ala.