Wednesday, November 05, 2008

You have through this Sunday, November 9 to check out Leo Villareal’s show of new work at Conner Contemporary—and, if you haven’t done so already, to experience Leigh Conner’s spacious new digs. The new CoCo at 1358 Florida Ave, NE, opened back on September 27; it has dramatic high ceilings and 7,000 square feet of space—including two main galleries, an enclosed room devoted entirely to video/new media (there’s a piece by Brandon Morse in there right now, as part of a sort of stable survey show in the back half of the building), and an outdoor exhibition space/patio.

It frankly feels less like a DC gallery, and more like a grandiose space in Chelsea, miraculously uprooted and flown down to a new unlikely home by Gallaudet and the bars on H Street. The only question remaining now: Which gallery is going to be next to head to NE, perhaps moving into the equally impressive space just above Conner? Okay, the economy may not cooperate with the big dreams of gallerists and dealers at the moment. Luckily, given the size of the new venue and the amount of work on the walls, Conner can serve as a destination gallery, anyway.

I will confess that I am a bit ambivalent about Villareal’s work—the gee whiz factor is undeniably high, but there’s something about his oeuvre that to me lacks contemporariness, and can seem bloodless, besides. I felt this pretty keenly when seeing his work in the context of earlier generations of electronic artists in the Hirshhorn’s Visual Music show back in 2005. (You can read what I had to say about that here.)

Still, it works as impressive tech spectacle. Even more impressive once it’s finally finished will be the 42,000 LED lights Villareal currently is installing at the NGA--in the ceiling and walls of that shimmering silver corridor running underground between the East and West buildings. It’s hard not to like the project, both for the welcome interaction of the NGA with a living contemporary artist (okay, not a local, but at least someone with local representation. Does that count?),and for the prospect of being overcome by oscillating white light while bouncing along those silly moving walkways.

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