Berlin and Washington would seem to have a few things in common, being world capitals and all that. But does Germany’s largest metropolis have anything to teach Washington — according to the 2010 Census, the 25th-biggest American city?
“Parks and Passages: Inspiration from Berlin for Washington’s Dupont Underground,” currently at the Goethe-Institut Washington, begins with a much simpler question: Can Berlin’s post-unification building boom provide an idea for the Dupont Circle streetcar tunnel and station that have been unused (save for a brief, failed stint as a food court) since 1961? The investigation was delegated to four Washingtonians — artists Edgar Endress and James Huckenpahler, architect Pam Jordan and scholar Paul Farber — sent to Germany by Provisions Library, which bills itself as a research, education and production center investigating the intersections of arts and social change. The project was underwritten by the library (which is based at George Mason University but independently funded), Goethe-Institut Washington and the city of Berlin.
In Berlin, the visitors studied an abandoned airport and a former amusement park, neither of which has much in common with a pair of curved underground shafts. The text-heavy exhibition features much information about the tunnel, including a multilevel map and a montage of articles printed in this newspaper, stretching across three walls and dating from 1882 to 1995. But it soon becomes clear that the four researchers returned with more thoughts about Berlin than about Washington.
There are some connections, of course. One map shows the places in the District where shards of the Berlin Wall now reside. But the most interesting exhibits have nothing at all to do with our town. A map of Berlin shows 22 restored or repurposed landmarks, while a small piece, “The Last Victim,” commemorates the final failed attempt to cross the Berlin Wall, shortly before East Germany began letting its residents experience the West.
One contrast between the two cities, while saying nothing about the Dupont tunnel, is instructive. Adjacent scale maps of Berlin (344 square miles) and Washington (61 square miles) show the German capital to be American in its sprawl, while the District looks positively European. With space at such a premium here, finding a constructive purpose for the Dupont tunnel seems rather important. How about running streetcars through it?
Not many museums, let alone private galleries, boast a sculpture garden. Yet Zenith recently joined the Hirshhorn and the National Gallery in having one. It’s at gallery proprietor Margery Goldberg’s art-stuffed D.C. house, known as Zenith Salon. The garden occupies a former swimming pool in the back yard, but visitors to the current show, “Home is Where the Art Is,” will easily recognize the place from the street. There’s also sculpture in front of the house, including Kyle James Dunn’s striking “The Sun Never Sets,” a multi-hued carriage made of surprisingly lacy plasma-cut steel; and Colin Selig’s “Propane Tank Bench #12,” which is indeed a white metal propane tank, complete with flammability warning label, repurposed as a bench.
In the garden itself are two more Dunn pieces, which apply the same technique to the forms of palm trees, one of which simulates being broken in two. Several of the sculptures are partially mobile: David Hubbard’s rusted steel plinths are topped by graceful, windmill-like forms; Vince Magni’s “Pearl and David” are matched female and male figures, made of coils of springy steel. Tom Noll’s assemblages of stacked logs and stones, painted in Hanna-Barbera colors, add to the playful mood.
There’s plenty more to see inside the house. Like Zenith’s Chevy Chase Pavilion space, which reopens next month after the mall’s renovations conclude, the salon is part gallery, part warehouse. Goldberg’s taste is avid and wide-ranging, and it seems unlikely that she could ever have enough space or enough art. “Home is Where the Art Is” runs till Nov. 10 but after this Saturday will be open by appointment only.
Animals become mechanisms, and a highway turns into a waterfall, in Jason Walker’s ceramic artworks. The sculptures and paintings in the Seattle area artist’s “Corporeal Perspectives” at Cross MacKenzie are whimsical, but not frivolous. Although some of the pieces recall traditional Asian pottery or the totem poles made by Pacific Northwest Indians, Walker also evokes human intrusions on nature by incorporating concrete, car parts and other man-made items into his miniature universe. “Swimming in Fire,” for example, is a human-headed fish with a gas-tank tail, mounted on four orange and red ceramic disks that suggest the creature is skimming across an inferno. Whatever’s going on here, it’s profoundly unnatural.
Immaculately detailed, Walker’s sculptures don’t merely juxtapose organic and metal ingredients. Each is also painted with images, some illustrating the basic form, others offering entire tableaux on related themes. One piece whose fabulously long title invokes pioneering environmentalist John Muir is a bear with gas-cap rump and different scenes on both flanks; these include a portrait of the artist and a view of Seattle’s waterfront. Among Walker’s motifs are animals cupped in human hands and small gizmos nestled in living creatures: a sparkplug in a bird’s mouth, or a distributor cap in the center of a flower. Rendered with such care in a delicate medium, these pieces seem the antithesis of heavy machinery. But they offer many, and sometimes ominous, reminders of technology’s power to change everything.
Mostly depicting daily street life in his native Honduras, Juan E. Hernandez G.’s paintings and prints are tender, yet not sentimental. “Tierra Y Memoria,” at the Art League, includes a few colorful subjects, including a street-corner band and two clowns on a bus. But Hernandez’s earth-toned palette represents the everyday, not the exotic. Some of the strongest works are either black-and-white linocuts or monoprints with a spare use of color. The elegant “Vendedora de Tortillas,” one of the former, demonstrates the artist’s assured use of line and space to suggest a fuller image. Hernandez doesn’t try to render every detail of life in his homeland, yet nothing essential is missing from his skillful evocations of land and memory.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through next Friday at the Goethe-Institut Washington, 812 Seventh St. NW; 202-289-1200; www.goethe.de/washington.
on view through Nov. 10 at Zenith Salon, 1429 Iris St. NW; 202-783-2963; www.zenithgallery.com.
on view through Nov. 10 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 2026 R St. NW; 202-333-7070; www.crossmackenzie.com.
on view through Nov. 5 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria, 703-683-1780, www.theartleague.org.