Before, the only excuse for not attending at least one gallery exhibition in the District must be credited to laziness. Up until this point, what was keeping some at bay was the distance of a mere half dozen blocks between campus and museums. Now, to the benefit of everyone, the Arts Club of Washington has brought an engaging, though truncated, assortment of works by three very different artists to its nearby location at 2017 I St. With its April exhibition, the Arts Club offers an object lesson on the process of making art itself. “Art isn’t easy,” Stephen Sondheim once wrote, as many of the pieces shown will corroborate, “but that is the state of the art.”
In the Monroe gallery, it seems as if James Reick is attempting to take the mantle of pop art past the postmodern realm and into the avant-garde. This is a considerable task, given that art has been “post” modern since the 60s. How much further beyond contemporary can it get? And what is the logical next step?
Luckily, Reick doesn’t tackle those questions and happily continues the trend made famous (and extremely lucrative) by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein: a style of art that explores everyday, essentially mundane imagery from contemporary consumer culture. Common sources include consumer product packaging, celebrities, and comic strips. Although Reick is less witty than his inspirational forebears (a pair of cookie jar paintings have none of the glossy modishness of, say, Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup can) still, he manages to eke out some pleasant surprises.
Reick’s “Ring” series adorns the walls like a set of giant advertisements for DeBeers diamonds. Charcoaled on square canvases, “Ring I” and “Ring III” look both elegant and imposing: the fact that they’re rendered in charcoal suggests the luster may be fading from the institution of marriage, while the size of the rings themselves hints at the enormity of the undertaking.
“Legs in Stockings” is Reick’s most accomplished piece on display. The shapely ankles and calves capped by black stilettos are painted from behind and up close, revealing the visible seam along the back of undergarments that made women en vogue in the 1940s. The sheer (pun intended) sensuality of the painting will wipe you out.
Less interesting is the collection’s centerpiece, called “Blanket,” which is an oil depiction of a green window treatment. While the painting has a tremendous sense of texture and demonstrates the artist’s command of color and light, the overall effect is metaphorically impressed by the work itself. It’s a curtain, closing off the world (which is hinted at by a small burst of sunshine). And this is particularly strange, given that “Blanket” represents the only work on display devised in plush Technicolor. It’s the drabbest of the lot.
In the adjacent Parlor gallery is the work of Carolyn Case. Contradictory to Reick’s pop art, Case’s paintings in “Worlds Seen and “Imagined,” are subdued nature scenes and glimpses into the artist’s lulling vision. All of her works are gouache (an opaque technique of watercolor painting) on wood panel or paper. And it is most advantageous to her art when she emphasizes this difference in medium. For example, “Golden Mean,” depicts a leafy scene with a warm yellow glow. The paint, which brings out the grain of the wood, is a nice complement to the theme of the piece.
Case is undoubtedly influenced by the artwork of Japan and the Far East. Many of her paintings look as though they’ve been copied from a traditional kimono. Despite this, “Japanese Rainstorm,” a drab blue cloud scene and one of the featured works, is one of the more prosaic works in the show.
Case’s largest work, “Wish You Were Here,” should be highlighted for its excellent technique. The painting is a dreamlike view of all that one could possibly imagine on a scenic postcard. But the opaque paint emphasizes Case’s dramatic sky of concurrent sunset and storm.
Having already included postmodern, pop and watercolor landscapes, the Arts Club broadens its offerings even more with Kate MacKinnon’s abstract oil paintings. Her series “49 Flavors” is a group of paintings based on the texture and color of jelly beans. Each painting is a 24-inch by 24-inch canvas matching the exact color and spotted markings of Jelly Belly favorites such as “Buttered Popcorn,” “Margarita,” “Sizzling Cinnamon” or “Top Banana.” Pointless? Definitely. Yet the paintings are a whimsical study – interesting with splashy combinations of colors and textures.
“49 Flavors,” the only painting to feature more than a singular flavor, is a larger canvas with a splotchy combination of multiple jelly bean flavors. This painting seems to be an extraneous and less thoughtful combination of all of the other paintings and looks out of place.
The Arts Club of Washington, with its lovely gallery space and proximate location, provides an opportunity to see three incredibly diverse, up-and-coming artists. Though no substitute for those who have not yet visited the National Gallery or Hirshhorn, this small show is worth a look.
The Arts Club of Washington, located at 2017 I St., NW, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The exhibit will be on display until April 24.