Saturday, July 30, 2005

Wall Mountables at DCAC

Around this town, anytime that you have an open show (meaning a show without a juror or curator), the critics tend to immediately savage it. This seems to be a predictable critical analysis somewhat unique to our area's visual arts and artists as viewed by most of our area critics.

Once a year, the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC), through a show called "Wall Mountables," allows any and all artists to hang anything they want, so long as it fits within a two square foot space. That exhibition opened last night to a huge crowd, and hangs at DCAC until September 4, 2005.

And in my opinion, after having seen several years' worth of "Wall Mountables," and after having participated in several of them myself, and after having purchased art in some of them, this is the best "Wall Mountables" so far.

The show is hung salon-style, as every precious inch of wall space has been claimed by artists. A prize, for best use of the space, was awarded on opening night by DCAC Executive Director B. Stanley as selected by several "Best Use of Space" jurors: Michael O'Sullivan, one of the the WaPo's art critics, DCAC Board members Philip Barlow and Marc Cohen and someone else whose name I cannot recall.

The winner was the fair Kathryn Cornelius, who's riding a hot streak recently, including receiving lots of attention for her video piece in the Warehouse's "Seven" show. Cornelius intelligently employed her two foot square by installing a glass-encased swing gate, inside which she created an installation of written words on a collection of matchbooks.

The buzz artist of the night was Ben Tolman, whose superbly weird little paintings and drawings were selling like hot cakes (I bought three of them). Tolman, who recently graduated from the Corcoran, and who has an impressive piece included in the Warehouse's "Seven" show, is represented by a dozen or so small paintings and drawings, which although showing a tremendous influence by the works of the equally odd Robert Crumb, nonetheless show young Mr. Tolman's own unique views and creative hand at work in his weird world of three breasted women, space aliens and sad girls.

Clown by Todd GardnerI also quite liked Todd Gardner's series of works focused on clowns; really odd and somewhat scary clowns - more like a Stephen King version (such as in his masterpiece It) than a Red Skelton kind of clown.

Gardner's works are frenetic and full of information, and in his own clown infested world, almost make sense in some oddly familiar way, cleverly dragging us into these intimate-sized works that then bring the viewer into Gardner's Stephenkinguesque macabre clownland.

I also liked Natalie Marcy's resin and plaster wall sculptures.

They are (I assume) dipped images of Natalie's face; there are three of them in the exhibition.Natalie Marcy's artwork

In the sculptures in the show, Marcy has employed the same multiple portrait approach, to deliver interesting, if slightly surreal, imagery, as if we're looking at the artist's face from an underwater perspective.

Kristin Freeman, who is DCAC's departing gallery manager, also has several handsome mixed media drawings in the show. And the fair Candace Keegan has several of her sexy portraits on exhibit, drawing the usual attention from everyone.

Peter Gordon has a singularly brilliant painting in the exhibition titled "Easy Does It." It is one of those clear paintings with an unexpectedly mundane subject (a salt and pepper shaker) that delivers a good lesson in what a good painter can do to keep the "ancient medium" alive and fresh.

Study this painting and you'll soon discover, in the elegant way in which Gordon has handled the paint, what a dab of white can do to create the illusion of light and a third dimension on the confines of a two dimensional canvas. No matter how many times I see this painting trick effectively accomplished, it still takes my breath away. That is why a thousand years from now, art galleries all over the universe will still sell paintings.

There's also one of those beautifully fragile laminated plywood wall sculptures by Nancy Samson Reynolds that are sensual and minimalist. It stands out both visually and figuratively.

Work by Anna Edholm DavisOn the same wall as Nancy's sculpture there are four mixed media pieces by Anna V. Davis, whose recent show at Gallery Neptune was quite good.

The works are colorful and visually attractive and also demand closer attention, as one discovers the craft of Davis' hands at work.

Initially giving the appearance of a very complex mosaic, we are fooled by Davis into thinking that her work is just sort of a square pointillist genre of painting.

Bring your nose closer to the work, and discover that in addition to painting, Davis has secured thousands of tiny paper pieces, to in effect create a mixed media of collaged paper and paint, to in reality created a paper mosaic of her unusually contemporary figurative work.

It is colorful and intelligent (and obviously enormously time consuming), and marries the ancient tradition of inlaid mosaic work, with a new fresh interpretation and look.

My final mention goes to a really nice photograph by Jennifer Dorsey, titled "Diversity in Monotony." It is one of those photographs that stands out by its clarity and starkness, although I wondered how it would look about ten times larger than the two foot space given to it.

Go see this show and buy some artwork.

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