Artists contribute to ‘Newtown Project: A Call to Arms!’


“Dec. 14, 2012,” by Jerry Truong (school writing desk, ink). (Courtesy Jerry Truong)
January 24, 2013

The December deaths of 20 children and six adults at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shook just about everyone who heard the news, but it had special resonance for Charles Krause. In 1978, as a reporter for this newspaper, he survived being shot at the airstrip near Jonestown in Guyana, where gunmen sent by the Rev. Jim Jones killed congressman Leo J. Ryan. Some 900 of Jones’s followers later drank poison in a mass suicide. Krause was moved to assemble a show that opened on Inauguration Day, “The Newtown Project: A Call to Arms!”

The former newspaperman runs Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, a gallery that specializes in political work, but this is the first time he’s mounted a show in response to a recent event. He called for submissions and got about 150, which a jury winnowed to 32. Most of the pieces are for sale, although the gallery won’t take a cut. One-third will go to the artists, with the rest to groups that advocate for gun control. The artists also agreed to license their pieces, for free, for educational or advocacy programs.

Many of the selections are too complex, visually or philosophically, for such campaigns. But some are ideally straightforward, in both image and message. Michael D’Antuono’s “Brought to You by the NRA” is a large oil painting with the directness of a great political cartoon: It shows a bit of a blood-spattered classroom, with a jumble that includes a crayon, a milk box, a child’s drawing and alphabet blocks that spell out “N.R.A.”

A disturbing irony is that much of this art works because images of guns and bullets are as commonplace as those of flowers and stars. War movies, cop shows and children’s toys have made Glock handguns immediately recognizable, even to people who’ve never seen one in real life. Even pictures of absences, such as Michele Colburn’s “Exit Wounds” or the photos from Jean Marie Guyaux’s “Shatter” series, instantly evoke the effects of guns.

Some of the artists evoke the innocence of children: Jerry Truong’s “Dec. 12, 2012” is a school desk scrawled with the words “please no more,” and Chawky Frenn’s “Protect Us” contrasts a kid with the Capitol and the Constitution. Others try to conjure the psychology of the mass murderer: Pamela Enz’s “son of a nobody” is based on an Arabic tale of a man who killed to become famous, while Eric Schweitzer’s white-on-black “Diablo Dentro” depicts evil as a disembodied force.

Nothing in this exhibition is likely to sway gun-rights advocates, and many of the artworks may not age well. But sometimes, a fast, angry (if nonviolent) response is what’s required. The show includes a partial installation of Linda Bond’s chilling “Inventory,” which comprises an index card for each of the 80,000 U.S. weapons that vanished in Iraq. The piece is designed to show how guns get around, which is another way of saying they’re not going away.

The Newtown Project:
A Call to Arms!

on view through Feb. 18 at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, 1300 13th St. NW; 202-638-3612; www.charleskrausereporting.com.

Walter McConnell

The show of Walter McConnell’s ceramics at Cross MacKenzie Gallery is worth two visits — one soon and another near its close in a month. That’s because two of the works, “Itinerant Eden: Hermetic Garden” and “Itinerant Eden: After Adam,” are alive and changing. Sealed inside vitrines, objects made of wet clay are growing mold and giving off water vapor that generates a cloudy mini-atmosphere. The organic and metamorphic qualities suit the subjects, human figures that include a pregnant woman. (A time-lapse video illustrates the process of making such pieces.)

McConnell uses this technique often, but usually on a larger scale. In fact, many of the pieces in this exhibition are derived from one of his “wet works” titled “Calling Earth to Witness,” which was installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Usually, the ceramicist lets his unfired tableaux mutate for a time, then he breaks them into smaller pieces that are finished in a kiln. That process yielded such sculptures as “Artifact: Lead Black #2,” whose intricate vegetal forms are complemented by a metallic glaze. Because they’re a more manageable size, the “Itinerant Eden” works will not be disassembled.

McConnell also is known for another sort of grand display, for which he arranges ceramic knickknacks in configurations that recall stupas, the mound-like Buddhist structures for holy relics. This show’s example of such a structure, “A Theory of Everything: Dark Stupa,” is far from the biggest the artist has made, but it’s impressive nonetheless. McConnell employs everyday craft-shop molds to fashion ceramic animals, children, and fairy-tale creatures and buildings, as well as mugs, vases and the occasional skull or female nude. The individual elements are banal, but the overall effect is uncanny, in part because of the crystalline glaze McConnell applies to all the objects. This stupa may not be deserve veneration, but the transformation of kitsch is a near-mystical accomplishment.

New Theories

on view through Feb. 27 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 2026 R St. NW; 202-333-7970; www.crossmackenzie.com.

Joshua Wade Smith

Traveling from Baltimore to Washington is usually uneventful, although some fans of cliches about the two cities endow the trip with metaphorical drama. Joshua Wade Smith’s “Here nor There” doesn’t really concern itself with either place, however. The Hamiltonian Gallery show focuses on the in-between and the process of movement.

Smith didn’t take a scenic route. His photographs, videos and constructions document a course that followed, as much as possible, the Amtrak/MARC right-of-way. There are also three multimedia images of a backpack frame, much like the one that was a motif of Workingman Collective’s 2011 show at Hemphill Fine Arts. The objects — which include, most literally, a pair of muddy sneakers — stand for the excursion.

The artist also reconstructed the journey in the gallery, where he built a 40-foot section of track (not to scale) that leads to a mirror. Running this section of simulated railroad, Smith writes, allows him to become closer to “my ‘self’.” Of course, it’s possible to achieve a similar meditative state just by settling into an Amfleet coach and focusing on the middle distance as the train traverses Laurel.

Here nor There

on view through Feb. 9 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, Suite 101; 202-332-1116; hamiltoniangallery.com.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

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