Sunday, August 22, 2004

A couple of days ago I dropped by Adams Morgan to catch the "Wall Mountables Show" at the District of Columbia Arts Center.

Once a year, DCAC has an open call to artists. The gallery gets divided into 1460 squares, each measuring two square feet and then any artist (on a first-come-first-served basis) can buy wall space in the gallery in any of the 1460 2 feet x 2 feet exhibit squares. Each space is only $10 for DCAC non-members and $5 for DCAC members and each artist can purchase up to five spaces.

Sort of like a mini Art-O-Matic, but nobody slams it for being "open" and "democratic." And that's good, because DCAC is one of the great cultural jewels in our city.

And thus, I reveal my cards early: I like DCAC and all that it stands for, making objective criticism very difficult, but then again I don't think any critic is truly objective. Agendas may be hidden, disguised, or even sub-consciously unknown, but they are all there.

But I meander.

To quote Glenn Dixon... "Like any summertime grab bag...

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Like any open show, where anything and everything is hung, these shows are truly a democratic grab bag. There is some really good work (as seen from the perspective of an artist (which most critics are not, although there some), and a gallery-owner (which most critics are not) and critic (which most critics are... uh...)) and some abysmal work - seen from two of the three perspectives that can't be fooled (one is easily fooled).

The worst entry in this show is a puzzling entry by an artist who also has a couple of other decent pieces hanging. It's by Kristina Bilonick (in collaboration with Rob Gardner) and it is titled "At A Glance." It's an used sheet from those "At A Glance" desk calendars, but filled in with scribbles and things. For one post-modernist second, in some rarified New York super cool gallery, by some blue chip artist (or Damien Hirst) this would have been a subject of oohs and aahs. In this exhibition and context it comes across as a waste of space.

Don't get me wrong Kristina and Rob - there are quite a few really bad pieces of art in the show - Arlene Mester's childlike drawings on lined paper come to mind (unless she's actually a teenage girl doodling in High School, in which case they're not really awful bad, just .... bad. And Dav Idanthro Nysmith's (winner of the coolest name in the show) entry of an empty frame that just shows the backing board cardboard as the "art," came in a close second.

To me these works seemed weak because they came across as lazy; the sort of work that college art students turn in at the last minute when they realize that the quarterly art project is due and they haven't actually done anything (been there - done that).

There are some really big names in this show, people like Manon Cleary, Graham Caldwell and Dan Steinhilber.

Cleary, who lives around the corner, shows one of her trademark floral paintings, surreally beautiful in an art world where that word is often diminished. But let's not forget that this is the same powerful painter who painted her own rape. I like her piece in this show (titled "Exotic Bloom # 2") because it shows the tremendous delicacy of skill that Cleary abundantly possesses and that is so rare these days. There are at least four or five other painters in this show that attempt to paint similar subject matter and fail miserably.

I also liked Steinhilber's piece, which is a large red dot made up of smaller stick-on red dots. I liked it because of the clever use of the red dot to convey a visual idea and a concept. The red dot is used by gallerists to denote a sold work of art.

piece by JT KirklandJ.T. Kirkland has several interesting pieces in the show, and I must admit, that after seeing Kirkland expose his work at his most excellent BLOG, that I was somewhat expecting to see work like this.

Instead I found several interesting exploratory works that really show Kirkland's interest in researching surface and color - a path taken (in fact a requirement I submit) by most young artists. The works on display, especially the untitled piece (people - please title your work! Learn to title from Barnett Newman) that has a blue color as the dominant color, with reddish edges and marked by a series of drilled holes; I quite liked because it was both visually appealing, technically well done and it showed an artist exploring his interest in texture.

I also liked Franklin Wassmer acrid trompe l'oeil paintings, which go past just faux paintings by introducing acrid pop art colors as background, which instead of being distracting from the false sense of reality (or as Blake Gopnik calls it "illusionism") add a sense of a painter who is armed with well-honed painting skills and is now having fun with color.

I was somewhat attracted to Erin Hunter's "Moon Over a Keen City," until I realized that Hunter is either regurgigating or channeling Erik Sandberg, but lacks Sandberg's brilliant painting skills.

Andrea Haffner's "Twin Set 4" cleverly uses two small images of body parts to re-assemble them in a visual re-organizing that makes the final piece quite interesting in a very intimate way. It's perhaps the most elegant use of the space in the show and the best photograph.

I'm running out of steam...

Other notables are Graham Caldwell's glass sculpture from (I think) his "Entanglement" series, and Dan Randall's oil depicting his continuous obsession with airplanes and Linn Myers' entry - another one of her squiggly lines series.

In a very clear sense, what this show delivers is an excellent opportunity for area artists and collectors to both support a great asset to our city's visual arts tapestry and also for artists to exhibit their work.

The worst place for artwork (even the ones I didn't like) is in the artist's studio or home, and thus not being shown to the public. I encourage all of you out there to become DCAC members and show at next year's version of this show.

While I was at DCAC, several people came in and viewed the exhibition. It was, as it always is, a terrific lesson about the trite but true saying "art is in the eyes of the beholder," as I always discover -- as I listen to people discuss the art-- that we humans have an incredible range of what we like or don't like, and some of the artwork that I didn't like and discussed earlier, was clearly the favorite of some of the visitors.

This grab bag had loads of different presents for all of us.

Munch the ScreamPilfered from AJ:

One of the most famous paintings in the world has been stolen in broad daylight at gun point in Norway.

A second story here.