Monday, January 31, 2005


Flying to the Left Coast today. On the way there I'll be reading Gerardo Arenado's Cada Quien Con Su Destino.

State of the Arts

AAC with Kraft neon sculptureThree years ago the Arlington Arts Center closed down for repairs and refurbishment. It was supposed to take nine months to complete the task.

Three years later, the newly renovated space re-opened its galleries (all nine of them) with a 69-artist group show showcasing 104 works by artists from various Mid Atlantic states. I am told that the opening night was huge, with around 800 people attending throughout the night.

Curated by five different curators, this re-opening group show nonetheless manages to hang together well and as with most group shows, offers a tremendous range of quality, subject matter and skill.

Titled "State of the Arts, A Mid Atlantic Overview," the exhibition was curated by Symmes Gardener, Director of the Center for Art and Visual Culture and an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Carole Garmon, Associate Professor at Mary Washington University in Fredricksburg, Virginia, J. Susan Isaacs, Consulting Curator at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, and also an Associate Professor of Art History at Towson University, by Cindi E. Morrison, the Executive Director of the Lancaster Museum of Art in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the DC area curator was Stephen Phillips, Curator of the Phillips Collection.

And orchestrating this massive effort to cover all the states (and DC) that are the Center’s geographic focus was Carol Lukitsch, the Center’s curator and a DC area painter who exhibits with Gallery 10.

Of the 69 artists, 34 are from the District, Virginia and Maryland, and of these, I recognized 15. I was not familiar with the work of any of the artists from the other states.

The exhibition, like most group shows, has some superb work as well as some head scratchers, but unlike a lot of group shows, especially shows in a nine-gallery venue, it is rare when the best piece in the show is the first one that you see as you enter the Center.

I am referring to Claire Watkins' "Untitled (Parasites)," a kinetic, electrical wall sculpture that weds motors, magnets, painting, iron shavings, pins and a sharp, professional presentation that draws you in by its intimate size, and then fascinates and somewhat repulses you, with its almost organic, planned movement.

Watkins writes about her work:

The digestive system turns food into eyelashes.

I am in awe of the minutiae and delicate actions that make up everyday life. The machines I build reflect this awe and wonder. My work is intimate, curious and mesmerizing in its movement and gesture. The translation of energy is both a functional and conceptual part of my work. The circular movement of a motor is translated into a gesture that turns peacock feathers into entomological organisms. With movement, I make machines that become creatures.
Watkins is right, and she has brilliantly translated her awe of the minutiae into a superb vision with a work of art that boasts technical skill, beauty, repulsion and a hypnotizing ability to grab your attention. It is a rare marriage of these things, but it works well. The piece sold, and whoever acquired it got a steal and has a very good eye for an up and coming artist.
Rachel Waldron's Untitled
One does not have to walk far from Watkins to come across another strong piece, in this case Rachel Waldron’s large charcoal and acrylic painting of a group of girls playing the children’s game "Dog Pile." I haven’t seen Waldron’s works since she graduated from GWU a while back (and disappeared), but this piece marks a significant departure from her previous works, as its absence of any color is a full reversal of Waldron’s lavish employment of color in her previous works. The painting, full of movement and energy, does continue Waldron’s interest in narrative and action, and is one of the best paintings in the show.

Walking straight through, one enters the Tiffany Gallery, so named because one of the walls in the room is made of three large stained glass windows.

And there's a story worth telling here.

Three years ago, Arlington County staff rescued 13 stained glass windows from the Abbey Mausoleum, which was slated for demolition. Tiffany WindowsUpon closer examination, someone discovered a signature pane on one of the windows that read "Louis C. Tiffany, NY."

Today three windows have been restored to their original beauty and are now installed at the renovated Center. It is a great story and we're lucky to have saved them. Unfortunately for the artwork, during sunny daylight hours, it casts a confusing blanket of colors all over the room, which is somewhat distracting.

Charles Ritchie Self-Portrait with Night IIHere Charles Ritchie's Self-Portrait with Night II and Self-Portrait with Night III stand out in an otherwise somewhat weak room. These mixed media pieces seem to employ anything that paper will hold, and Ritchie mixes watercolor, litho crayons, gouache, ink and graphite on paper to come up with dark, brooding works in spite of the colorful lights from the stained glass windows.

Also in this room are three pieces by Jiha Moon that are sort of a contemporary Sumi-esque (I think). I found them somewhat bland and lacking presence, but it proves the truth in the trite saying that "art is in the eyes of the beholder," as two of the three pieces had sold, proving that some art lover obviously disagrees with me! Good for Jiha, and good for art.

Most of the other artists in this gallery, mostly from Delaware and Pennsylvania, tend to come under the representational umbrella, but in my opinion fall too deep into the chasm that haters of representational work like to label “traditional,” such as Stephen G. Tanis’ "Lillies, Bowl and Vestment," a superbly crafted painting that offers only that. Interestingly enough, some of the other work in the artist's own website is a lot more interesting to me, so I think that the choice of a still life was perhaps a bad one.

Linda Hesh's MikeThe Upper Level Gallery offers us more work from Linda Hesh’s well-known "Safe and Suspect" series where she pushes racial and ethnic buttons through the manipulation of photographic portraits to morph the subjects into various skin and racial characteristics. Also in this gallery is Andy Moon Wilson’s small drawings (over a thousand of them) for five bucks a pop. Placed inside small zip-lock bags and then mounted onto the wall with pushpins, the drawings cover all subjects, styles and ideas and are a joy to anyone who takes the time to study the work of an artist clearly in love with art.

Other than Hesh’s works, photography is one of the weak areas in this group show, overcrowded with boring snapshots of buildings, walls and other mundane subjects, but one notable exception is the funny and contrived photography of FEAST, a Virginia collective of five artists (Terral Bolton, Terry Brown, Sherry Griffin, Stephanie Lundy and Chris Norris). In "Drunk on Doughnuts (lick)," a voluptuous, well endowed woman (looking remarkably like the actress that plays Karen in Will & Grace) licks her fingers as she’s about to embark in a massive doughnut consumption orgy.

Galo Moncayo's so far, I do not knowIn the lower level, the Experimental Galleries A and B are host to five installations, the best of which is Galo Moncayo's clever marriage of sound art with powdered pigments.

In this "Richard Chartier meets the Dumbacher Brothers" installation, Moncayo has arranged a series of speakers on the floor, and placed small amounts of powdered pigment on the diaphragms of the speakers. As sounds pop from the speakers, the diaphragms moves, constantly rearranging the pigment, in a pleasant organized cacophony of pops and movement. I was somewhat distracted by the mess of speaker wires all over the floor, but Lukitsch assured me that Moncayo slaved over the right placement of the wires. I am somewhat curious as to what this installation would be in a wireless environment.

Finally, I also liked Andrew Christenberry’s "Cross Wall Cabinet," a gorgeous wall sculpture showing a remarkable exploration of the cross as a symbol, and Annet Couwenberg’s "Act Normal and That’s Crazy Enough," a set of seven large cotton pieces that look remarkably like those neck ruffles that one sees Spanish nobles wearing in El Greco’s Burial of Count Orgaz. Each piece also has embroidered within it one of the words in the title. Couwenberg is the Chairperson of the Fiber Department at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

The new Arlington Arts Center brings back a familiar voice to our area’s art scene, and if this show is a vision of things to come, that voice comes back full of strength, diversity and vigor.

Welcome back!