- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

Once in a while, a show comes along that delights the senses and challenges the mind. Such an exhibit is “The 48th Corcoran Biennial: Closer to Home.”

Dazzling in its variety, originality and breadth, the 15-artist biennial differs strikingly from its technically oriented recent predecessors of 2001 and 2003. Exhibit co-curators Jonathan P. Binstock and Stacey Schmidt sought to return to the more traditional materials and subjects of earlier biennials.

“September 11, 2001 is still in the air, and it was time to rein in the wild beast of contemporary art and return ‘closer to home,’” Mr. Binstock says.

Though works made with video, digital and computer technology are included, they are not the focus of the exhibit, and it is the more traditional works that have the most panache, the most playful imagination and that most easily capture interest.

The show’s star is the Rev. Ethan Acres’ astonishing “Fall of Babylon,” a room-sized (here, the Corcoran’s rotunda gallery), pop-inspired installation of three huge inflatable sculptures. A fantasy sculptural representation of Mr. Acres preaching a sermon, with cloth crows flapping about, accompanies them.

Though transmitting a serious message — the preacher wants to express the “power of the Good Book” — the blown-up pieces could be carnival moon bounces.

Even more startling is the spoken excerpt from Mr. Acres’ sermon: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness: and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.”

The preacher’s otherworldly vision is one of several expressed in this fantasy-dominated biennial. Different visions are imagined by Dana Schutz, George Condo, James Huckenpahler and Kathryn Spence.

In “Twin Parts,” Miss Schutz peoples a tropical landscape with a threatening, gigantic woman of thick red paint. Mr. Condo exemplifies the exhibit’s figurative thrust with a roomful of weird humanoids. Washington artist Mr. Huckenpahler digitally manipulates photographs of body surfaces for futuristic nature-scape images.

Miss Spence, who is based in San Francisco, makes most of her art from household objects. With the carefully arranged and ironed socks, embroidered paper towels, rags, discarded toys, boxes and threads that make up her “Untitled” assemblage, she may be the artist most connected to the exhibit’s theme of “home.”

Among the extraordinary works here that visitors will carry away in their imaginations is Chakaia Booker’s wall-sized, found-rubber “Acid Rain,” a sculpture threatening in its deep black color, acrid smell and deeply cut “flesh.” So rich are both its overall sculptural form and smaller details that visitors should view it both close-up and from a distance.

Miss Booker made the sculpture from an assortment of somewhat startling found objects — rubber car and bicycle tires, truck hoses and detritus from industrial sites — that she shaped into complex, emotionally charged pieces.

Mr. Condo’s work fits easily within the exhibit’s domestic category. The artist has painted his disturbing humanoid figures for the past 25 years and is well-known on the New York art scene. He exaggerates the bursting of the 1990s stock-market bubble in “The Stockbroker,” which depicts a man without his pants and his wife with a doll. According to Mr. Binstock, the doll represents the baby they hoped to conceive.

Visitors may not decipher the curators’ division of the biennial into domestic and tech-inspired works, but few will miss the array of unforgettable works here. The curators traveled the length and breadth of the continent looking for something special. They found it.

WHAT: “The 48th Corcoran Biennial: Closer to Home”

WHERE: Corcoran Gallery of Art, New York Avenue at 17th Street NW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and until 9 p.m. Thursdays. Closed Tuesdays. Through June 27.

TICKETS: $6.75 adults, $4.75 seniors, $3 students with current ID, $12 families

PHONE: 202/639-1700 or www.corcoran.org

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