Arts Desk

Judy Rushin’s Great Idea Falls Flat at Flashpoint Gallery

Rushin 3Even the most compelling conceptual art can be difficult to display in a traditional gallery setting. “Between Us: Variance Invariance Project by Judy Rushin &” suffers that fate.

The idea is promising. Rushin created a series of abstract paintings, designed to attach or detach in modular form. She then shipped them around to a variety of artists. These collaborators (the unspecified “&” in the work’s title) then documented how they displayed the paintings in their homes and places of work, sometimes sending back tokens of appreciation to Rushin.

As a concept, this is all well and good – a case study in artistic collaboration and renewal over long distances. A few collaborators find clever repurposes—one stacks them in a way that approximates a David Smith Cubi sculpture, while another leaves them haphazardly stuck in the sand, approximating an unexpectedly festive array of beach chairs (right).

For the most part, though, the project doesn’t create the most intriguing visualsRushin 2 for a gallery exhibit.

Many of the destinations for the paintings seem rather humdrum (blocking a window, occupying a mantel, stuck to a tree trunk) and the images that document these actions are made by collaborators with uneven photographic skills.

Indeed, lost in the conceptual commotion is the work’s most appealing aspect: the paintings themselves. Rushin, known as an abstract painter, has created a diverse yet coherent set of designs, consisting mainly of thin, crisply painted stripes in cheerful hues—a resonant choice for her first solo exhibition in Washington, D.C., given the storied history here of Gene Davis and the rest of the Washington Color School.

The idea of artistic exchange is one worth exploring, but in this case, a more rewarding choice may have been to let the original artworks speak for themselves.

Through June 21 at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 315-1305. Wed-Sat 12-6.

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  • Judith Rusin

    Mr. Jacobson, Thank you for your very thoughtful and insightful review. I agree with your general assessment of my show. The visual documentation could have been better and some of the collaborations were more interesting than others. Relinquishing some authorship was, however, part of my challenge in this large participatory project and I was committed to exhibiting the work of every participant. My aim with Variance Invariance was to use my interchangeable paintings to briefly draw focus away from the mainstream in order to explore abstraction as a social catalyst.

    The Flashpoint exhibition utilized the traditional gallery setting as a re-affirmation of the gallery’s role by convening the collaborations in one place for public viewing. I hoped the project would capture the imaginations of the gallery’s visitors and to some extent I believe it did. I admit I had trouble laying out the exhibition. For an artist who prefers spare shows in which my paintings and sculptures do all the work, this was a real challenge. But Between Us was not a show about formal abstraction; it was an investigation into the social and economic aspects of contemporary abstraction. I’m gratified that you find my work compelling. I have had many successful painting exhibitions and this new experiment as you say, fell flat in the gallery setting. In a way this outcome can be more fruitful for an artist than a show that goes on without a hitch. Perhaps I can say I’ve failed well.

    All the best,
    Judy Rushin

  • Louis Jacobson

    Thanks for your thoughtful self-critique. I appreciate the dialogue and am pleased that you view my criticism as constructive. Good luck with the next show! As I noted, I really liked the paintings themselves. All best, Lou Jacobson