The artist, who spends much of his time in Paris, doubts that the United States can balance its ideals with its appetite for oil. His show includes an image of Barack Obama that twists an upbeat slogan into a threat with one of Molodkin’s favorite words. (It’s a four-letter vulgarity, not of Slavic origin, that could be called crude.) But there’s an unflattering image of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well, and the show’s largely English text includes the mostly Cyrillic logo for Gazprom, the Russian natural-gas behemoth.
When taunting presidents, corporations and unrealized principles, Molodkin might seem to be reacting to the daily news. But this show — sponsored by two local galleries, Blue Square and M. Kelner, along with Houston’s Station Museum of Contemporary Art and a London-based foundation, a\political — is also personal. As a Soviet soldier, Molodkin was assigned to a train carrying gasoline in Siberia and was routinely coated in oil. In that period, he began drawing with standard-issue Soviet Army ballpoint pens, which inspired one aspect of his current work. He still uses blue ballpoints, exhausting thousands to complete one of his large, detailed drawings. If the scratchy medium makes these renderings look rough, it’s just another way that Molodkin plays with meanings of the term “crude.”
on view through Thursday at the American University Museum, Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, 202-885-1300,
Oil derives from once-living creatures, a transformation Molodkin has explored in works not included in his AU show. Across town, at Industry Gallery, Tobias Klein and his collaborators are conducting a parallel experiment. “The Invisible Human” grows crystals on MRI images of a frozen corpse that was sliced into 1,871 segments. (The cadaver came from a convicted murderer, executed in Texas in 1993, who donated his body to science.) Regrowing a sort of body from the segments of a carcass is the project of Ordinary Klein, a partnership between Studio Tobias Klein and Ordinary Ltd., two London design firms.
The crystallization process mirrors what happens in a body that’s severely chilled or dehydrated: Cells, which are predominantly water, begin to form ice- or salt-based deposits, usually with fatal results. At Industry, two sets of mesh screens — one imprinted with skeletal cross sections, the other with ones from internal organs — are submerged in tanks filled with a saturated solution. Crystals coalesce on the forms until the screens are encrusted and removed. Spectators, either on the premises or using a Web site, can affect the process by manipulating the liquid’s temperature.