- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2000

Fifteen cutting-edge artists invade the Corcoran Gallery of Art in its 46th biennial exhibition, which opens today.

The Corcoran presents a more varied canvas in this millennial show than it has in past biennials. The exhibit — called "The 46th Biennial Exhibition: Media/Metaphor" — combines painting with installation and computer-related media, video, film and photography. Before, the focus was on painting.

The Corcoran's Web site also replaces the traditional biennial catalog for this show.

Seattle experimental video artist Gary Hill, who finds today's world contradictory and disorienting, is one of the 15 biennial participants. The artist repeatedly throws himself against a barrier in his "Wall Piece" installation while mouthing frustration over what he considers today's uncertain comfort in art, distrust of perception and loss of meaning in language.

Mr. Hill locates his moving video images — illuminated by strobe light — in a dark-shot-with-intermittent-light theatrical ambience.

Y. David Chung, a D.C. resident and son of a former Korean diplomat, echoes Mr. Hill's theme of chaos and isolation. He translates the angst of urban alienation — especially that of Korean immigrants — through four oil-stick tilted drawings and kaleidoscopic video projections. He arranged them in a room-sized installation with composer Pooh Johnston's music.

Painter Ben Sakoguchi, who grew up in World War II Japanese-American internment camps and now lives in Pasadena, Calif., conveys a bitter message. With 51 primitively painted "Postcards From Camp", the artist shows acute suffering from what he considers the hypocritical, racist attitudes of elected American officials.

One is the late Earl Warren, who was California attorney general and later chief justice of the United States. Mr. Sakoguchi paints Justice Warren, surrounded by his large, well-heeled family, mouthing racial epithets. Two Sakoguchi paintings bear telling labels. One is "Ethnic Cleansing — American Style." Another is "45 Cents Per Person, Per Day" that shows a camp food line.

Artists Nan Goldin and Lisa Yuskavage project conflicted images of women's sexuality.

New York oil painter Yuskavage aims to prove "that painting isn't dead." She purposely makes women seductive with artificial color and dramatic lighting, yet distorts them for an unsettling abrasiveness. The painter is extraordinarily successful in marrying the "low culture" of commercialism and advertising with the figurative traditions of "high culture."

Miss Goldin, a New York City resident, continues to photograph her different "families." The show displays images of an AIDS-infected family with whom she lived last year.

Exhibition organizer Philip Brookman, the Corcoran's curator of photography and media arts, chose the artists in the show for their special connections with their media. Few of today's artists aim to show beauty and pleasure in their art. Biennial artists Jennifer Steinkamp, David Reed and Chuck Close are exceptions.

A Los Angeles artist, Miss Steinkamp used her computer skills and video animations to fill the Corcoran's rotunda. She wove bouncing oranges, purples, lavenders and blues that move to electronic music by Jimmy Johnson, also of Los Angeles. The two tailored their art and sounds to the shape and dimensions of the rotunda.

The project took three months. Their aim was to make the installation, called "Loop," look like a painting for visitors to walk through.

Mr. Reed is a New York artist whose paintings of oil and alkyd on linen are lushly sensual yet determinedly intellectual. The works resemble swirls of smooth lacquer or enamels. The surfaces are as unruffled as traditional Japanese screens.

Mr. Reed combines several painterly traditions with his gestural ribbons of color from the abstract expressionists and the theatrical richness of baroque painters such as Tintoretto. Mr. Reed says he is most interested in the emotional content of the painting and achieves this with special effects of color and light. The artist also incorporates photographic and cinematic effects in his long, horizontal formats. Critics generally agree that Mr. Reed has breathed new life into abstraction.

New Yorker Mr. Close, among this country's best-known figurative and portrait artists, turns to the beginnings of photography, the daguerreotype, to create new portraits and nude male and female torsos. The medium has been out of regular use since the mid-1800s.

The daguerreotype enables him to make shiny sepia-toned images that evoke the sensual realism of his early paintings. Not since Auguste Rodin's sculptures has the beauty of the human body been so effectively captured.

Curator Brookman wants to illustrate how the speed and changes of our information age affect artists.

The period after 1914 and World War I brought revolutionary changes on all fronts, and displacement and disorientation became the norm that continues today.

Artists working in 2000 inherited these negatives but acquired a delight in computers, videos and digital photography. Still, contradictions abound, such as computers' ability both to connect and to disconnect us, and new forms of expression spring from both tradition and new technologies.

These dichotomies and love of never-ending change are hardly new. The critic Robert Hughes wrote about this century's obsession with change and novelty 20 years ago in his book "Shock of the New." He pointed to artists' valuing change for its own sake and creating metaphors for newness.

Mr. Hughes wrote that the most important metaphor of change at the beginning of the 1900s was Paris' Eiffel Tower, which was built in 1889. "Visitors did not look up at the tower but down from it," he wrote.

The limitless industrial growth of European cities was new. People left the agrarian countryside for cities created by machines. Railroads and cars quickly followed, as well as other inventions.

"The speed at which culture reinvented itself through technology in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth seems almost preternatural," Mr. Hughes wrote.

The "shock of the new" is still shocking and the biennial's artists revel in it. They have found that the most effective presentations are theatrical, such as those of artists Hill, Chung and Yuskavage, or interactive, including the works of Shimon Attie of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Victor Burgin of San Francisco and Sharon Daniel of Oakland, Calif.

Miss Daniel's "Narrative Contingencies," made for the biennial, engages visitors by inviting them to contribute personal stories and use the computers, camera, scanner and printer to generate surprising results.

Mr. Brookman organized the exhibition around what he defines as "place" and "time."

Artists involved with "place" create it with real landscapes or imagined spaces. They also piece together multicolored views of their worlds with bits of memory and personal experiences.

Artists concerned with "time" work with what Mr. Brookman calls "time-based media such as video and interactive computer technologies."

Visitors may or may not agree with the curator's categories. What is obvious is Mr. Brookman's choice of artists with clear passions and feelings. They present challenges that make this biennial show innovative and intriguing.

WHAT: "The 46th Biennial Exhibition: Media/Metaphor"WHERE: Corcoran Gallery of Art (www.Corcoran.org), 17th Street and New York Avenue NWWHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesday, until 9 p.m. Thursday, through March 5TICKETS: $5 adults, $8 families, $3 seniors and member guests, $1 students (12 to 18 years with ID)PHONE: 202/639-1800

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