Zenith Gallery is one of those guilty pleasures I have never needed to embrace. It is a tabernacle of Art Lite; a library stall where rejected best sellers attempt to shine afresh; and a food market that doesn’t attract flies because it’s not savory enough.
Most of its artists seem genially disposed and nicely turned out. Certainly what they offer does not offend, but it does nothing to disturb, enlighten, elevate, or even annoy. Well, it is annoying. Why should such work be available to presumably serious collectors when so much better stuff goes unnoticed?
One of the reasons is its founder’s seductive flair. Because she likes something, you might as well like it too. She has a flair for decoration; she knows how to mix and match; and she’s a personable lady.
Yet these attributes have very little to do with providing an audience with paintings and sculpture that are not only beautifully – or at least competently – made, but pose a challenge or question. Much of the work is friendly. Which is to say, acceptable. Which is to say, in terms of what art can do, not anywhere near what it should be doing.
Her aesthetic is as decorative as the rooms she is pleased to adorn. She can’t but choose the blandly insipid creations she’s trafficked in ever since I moved to Washington in 2004 and hoped for at least one dealer who was willing to scour the region for artists who might help re-establish Washington as an art center that was potent enough to be seen after Philadelphia finished throwing its weight around and New York City took a deep breath and said “Namaste.”
Washington is not an enviable place to be an artist – not a good one anyway. Color Field painting constituted a breakaway moment , upon which the city failed to build – though it has no trouble seizing what bragging rights it can and makes the most of its CF aura. Yet it has needed at least one dealer whose spirit is not so much on the cutting-edge as enamored of regional possibilities that have cropped in cities as diverse as Denver, Pittsburgh, Charleston, Richmond, and Dallas – to mention a few places that have successfully re-invented themselves and carved out a reputation as art-destinations-to-reckon-with. DC is that half-sister who never went to the prom, lives by herself, and doesn’t even like animals. It attempts a world-class image without having – as far as visual art is concerned – the goods to match.
Zenith Gallery exemplifies Washington’s appalling mediocrity. I would single out certain painters, but there is no need. They are all – each in their own way – of a piece in that none tells us anything about the sort of life we in America have; it is not interested in its landscape or its cheap hotels or such charming aberrations as artists find in other places. Zenith’s artists are aesthetic slouches and phenomenological bores. They make a virtue of complacency; a winning strategy out of the amiable frou-frou of their lives; and a slack-hearted yarn-ball out of life’s harrowing complexities.
If people can be said to look for art in all the wrong places, let me identify this one and suggest that you look somewhere else. There will always be nice and lovely people who will buy such stuffs as the Zenith Galleries of this world provide. Yet if you are interested in the sort of art-work you might care to live with for a while; hate for a spell; but suddenly see in a different light and care for it more than ever, Zenith and its ilk is not for you. It is not for anyone who wants a three-dimensional experience on a two-dimensional plane.
Zenith Gallery is located at 1429 Iris Street, NW in Washington, DC 20002
For information about hours and other concerns, call: (202) 783-2963 or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Its website address is: www.zenithgallery.com.