I always look forward to Axis Gallery’s annual national juried show. In past years it has been a searching and satisfying exhibit. This year’s show, judged by Jenny Gheith, assistant curator of painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is a disappointment.
Axis has a new space at Seventh and S streets that is about four times larger than its previous quarters on 19th Street near P Street. Because of size limitations, the previous Axis Nationals were concise shows that often contrasted favorably with the State Fair’s rambling exhibitions.
This year, the show includes 58 pieces, many of which fail to engage this viewer. There are too many works that fall short, either in terms of technique or vision. This year’s show was judged digitally, and I don’t know if that made a difference. One wouldn’t think there would be a disparity between slides and digital entries, but something was off.
There are too many works that just don’t work: a pair of black-on-black works under glass that are unviewable, a number of forgettable photographs, a chaotic image viewed through 3-D glasses, and inept attempts at the portrait, figure and still life, to mention a few.
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The show could easily have been cut in half, and it would have been a better exhibit for it. I say this with a good deal of sadness for I have nothing but respect for Axis Gallery and its dedicated artist/members who have done an outstanding job of bringing innovative and experimental work to our attention.
That said, there are some strong works in the show. I particularly liked a pair of paintings by Brett Eberhardt of Macomb, Ill. These unconventional interiors are tough paintings that elevate the quotidian to an inspiring level. “Vent and Drawing Room Floor” is spatially compelling and enigmatically lovely. So is “Blue Baseboard,” a matter-of-fact rendition of an overlooked aspect of a room that has strong abstract underpinnings.
I also liked a small watercolor done on wallpaper by Madelyn Covey of Emeryville. “Sherlocks” is a rich painting of a couple in Doctor Who-like overcoats that has a mythic quality. There is also a radiant and surprising painting of a bleach bottle on a blue background by Ryan Fontaine of San Francisco that stands out as a compelling and luminous image. Also compelling was “Sleep,” a mysterious small painting of somnolent figures in an abstracted landscape by Cindy Bernhard of Elwood, Ill.
There are a number of strong photographs in the show, from “Goat Track used by British Commandos near Al Bayda Libya,” a large-scale color photo by Matthew Arnold of New York City, to “Mona in Her Room,” a poignant color image of a transvestite Marilyn Monroe wanna-be by Gary Beeber of Water Mill, N.Y. Along the way you will find “Ghost Bones,” a haunting digital color photo of a skeleton by Richard Ashby of Sacramento, and “Gateless Gate, Part 9,” a rich silver halide print of a path into a grove of decaying trees by Michael Miner of Studio City.
There are also a couple of fine prints: “Winter Oak Sky,” a delicate, lyrical image of lacy trees done in intaglio and a solar process by Kathy McGhee of Galloway, Ohio, and “Night Watch,” a finely rendered etching of an owl by Celia Wedding of Piedmont. Near it is a strong drawing of a folded paper hat titled “ I Am Not Here – II” by Elena Peteva of South Dartmouth, Mass.
The show is very short on sculpture, save for “Mi Silla, Su Silla,” an installation of rickety lawn chairs by Sandi Escobar of Chico; a silly ceramic cross between Buddha and Darth Vader by Ianna Frisby of Sacramento; and “Legend of the Lone Ranger Part II President Martin Van Buren,” a bas relief in plaster and wax by Dana Younger of Austin, Texas.
Three juror’s awards of $200 each were given to Matthew Arnold, Brett Eberhardt, and Blaie Bandy of Atlanta, Ga.