- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2007

Like photography before it, digital imagery is making inroads into the rarified world of the fine arts. The late New York artist Jeremy Blake tried to blur the boundary between the two in recent years by creating “moving paintings” on the computer screen. His animated collages combine morphing colors and shapes with Monty Python-type gags, photo stills from films and television, and fragments of music and spoken poetry.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art wants you to see them as “wild” and forward-leaning, but a trio of Mr. Blake’s videos on view at the museum, starting tomorrow, reveals the artist to be deeply nostalgic in his romantic odes to the idols of the swinging 1960s and later punk bands. His adolescent fantasies about rebellious rockers are expressed through the traditional form of portraiture, and he tries so hard to blend media that his dense verbal and visual montages lack artistic clarity.

The lush but uneven display at the Corcoran testifies to this young artist’s search for originality and serves as a tribute to Mr. Blake’s short career. In July, at age 35, he ended his life by walking into the ocean off Queens, N.Y., after finding his companion, filmmaker and writer Theresa Duncan, had committed suicide. Their deaths stunned the art world, especially given Mr. Blake’s success with museum and gallery shows, and his creations for the movie “Punch-Drunk Love” and pop star Beck.

The new exhibit premieres an unfinished work called “Glitterbest” by Mr. Blake, who took art lessons at the Corcoran while growing up in Takoma Park. This last homage is to Malcolm McLaren, and it flashes photo after photo of the punk rock impresario, as if the Englishman’s own films and self-promotion weren’t enough. Appealing sequences of brightly colored blobs, florals and stripes figure prominently in some parts, suggesting Mr. Blake was intending to revive his painterly roots.

An older work, “Reading Ossie Clark” (2003), is dreamier in its portrait of the London fashion designer who helped shape the look of the 1960s by dressing icons of the era, including the Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull and Twiggy, all of whom are pictured. The decadent, trippy piece, combining period photography with visual riffs on Mr. Clark’s travels and addictions, can be seen as the flip side of David Hockney’s 1970 polite, parlor-room painting, “Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy,” which hangs in the Tate Gallery.

More absorbing is the faster-paced “Sodium Fox” (2005), a portrait of Nashville singer-songwriter David Berman of the indie-rock band Silver Jews. His musical fragments and spoken non sequiturs are timed to the on-screen images as if telling a troubled life story. “I feel like I spent my childhood blowing on dandelions for nothing,” he says.

Throughout the piece, Mr. Blake’s appropriation of retro images — cartoons, mid-century architecture, fast food, soap-opera characters and the like — reflect the tired theme of everyday crassness familiar from decades-old pop art. Like the other two videos, it is so chock-full of disparate imagery — the visual equivalent of Mr. Berman’s stream-of-consciousness narrative — that neither the fine-art nor the filmic qualities come to the fore. Littered with skulls and drawings from Mr. Blake’s childhood, the piece seems autobiographical, especially at the end when a blaze of color over the sea suggests the artist’s recent demise.

WHAT: “Wild Choir: Cinematic Portraits by Jeremy Blake”

WHERE: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW

WHEN: Tomorrow through March 2; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday ; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday; closed on Tuesday

ADMISSION: $6 general admission

PHONE: 202/639-1700

WEB SITE: www.corcoran.org

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