Multiple ideas of domesticity quarrel or concur in exhibitions at Heiner Contemporary and the District of Columbia Arts Center. The Heiner show, “Housebound,” tends toward the cozily domestic, while the other, “A/way Home,” is rather less comfortable. But both include works that look at “home” from the outside.
Among the simplest pieces at Heiner are Allison Reimus’s lovely paintings of pots and vases, which use acrylic and spray paints, as well as glitter and gold leaf, to simulate the sensuous hues and textures of Asian-style ceramics. Reimus is also showing some pictures that suggest details from embellished walls or facades.
Most of the other five artists in the show depict domestic scenes. Bella Foster and Allison Gildersleeve do so loosely, recalling European impressionists or expressionists. Augusta Wood shows domesticity under glass, photographing rooms through windows; the focus is less on the interior than the multiple visual planes conjured by complex reflections. Ann Toebbe also toys with perspective, in oil and gouache paintings that are scrupulously flat yet offer multiple angles on everyday vignettes. Her pattern-rich work includes autobiographical asides: At the center of “Beating the Rug” is a bird that laid eggs on Toebbe’s porch while the artist was pregnant.
Rachel Farbiarz’s found-object sculpture, “Take Me With You,” also features lots of commonplace stuff, piled on a wheelbarrow to evoke a refugee’s attempt to carry something of home into exile. The flip side of this piece is the same artist’s “I Wish I Could,” on display in the gallery’s window. It shows the things left behind, including crystal, linens and a sewing machine. Both assemblages evoke the D.C.-based sculptor’s grandfather, a Holocaust survivor and post-World War II refugee. One of the meanings of “home,” of course, is that sense of belonging that can be stolen forever.
The sense of loss in Farbiarz’s work is echoed in some of the pieces in “A/way Home,” an eight-artist show curated by Jarvis DuBois for Black Artists of D.C. “The black poet carries the genetic memory of terror,” is one of the messages in Esther Iverem’s text-heavy fabric pieces. The exhibition’s epigraph is a quotation from Toni Morrison’s “Home,” which expresses the ambivalence many feel toward their home town.
Much of the work is photo-based. Alex Alexander offers impressions of an urban supermarket, shabby and unwelcoming; Thomas Gomillion photographs men, perhaps homeless, lounging on benches. Less literal are Charles Sessoms’s photo-collages, which include a hand rising through flood waters and an African woman in a burlesque costume, seemingly trapped in some Victorian-era sideshow.
Some of the most appealing work is less specific. The titles of J. Hubert Jackson’s mixed-media paintings, which include “Urban Lake,” indicate that they’re landscapes, but they evoke a general sense of sky, land and water rather than actual locations. Carolyn Goodridge’s encaustic paintings such as “Across the Milky Way” gaze upon even wider horizons. The cosmic subject matter may bend the concept a little, but these pictures are among the show’s most handsome entries.
It’s a man’s art world at Cross Mackenzie Gallery, where 12 artists — 11 of them male — celebrate or deflate “Macho.” This gallery is known for ceramics, and just inside the front door is an array of oversize sparkplugs that aren’t made of metal. Joe Hicks fashioned them, incongruously, from the same sort of material as Victorian dishes, embellished with floral designs that also evoke that era. Diana Williams had a similar idea: model missiles made from porcelain, but with glazes that give the projectiles the appearance of chrome or concrete.
Sexuality is not a major theme, although the show includes Jim French’s photograph of a gay-icon muscle man and Joel D’Orazio’s transformed bowling balls, one of which sports three protruding vacuum tubes that suggest genitalia. More of the selection focuses on adventure or work. National Geographic photographer Skip Brown shot a kayaker who’s confronting white water and a little boy who’s striking a combative pose. James Rieck’s photorealist painting “Acquisition” depicts (male) hands as they sign a document. Camden Place’s large “woodcuts” — rendered with India ink on birch panels — show men at work or hunting.
Labor and sport are intertwined in Charlie Sleichter’s “Putting the Pressure On,” a wall sculpture that playfully grafts a golf club to tubing and a pressure gauge. Also hard-edged yet witty is another D’Orazio piece, a sofa made of coiled, orange-painted steel — ideal seating for guys who just can’t relax. The most somber piece, Paul Di Pasquale’s “Blue Break,” has taken on a sad new resonance since this show opened at the beginning of the month. It includes the remains of a pistol that was seized and smashed by the Richmond Police Department after being used in a crime. Now partially embedded in concrete, the gun represents macho at its most ominous and bewildering.
Rome-based Finnish artist Hannu Palosuo paints simple objects, subjected to complex forces. The oils in his current show at Alex Gallery, the space that introduced Palosuo to American viewers in 2004, are in two series, depicting flowers and human figures. The blooms, in the “Obliterated Memory” series, are whipped to one side, as if blurred by motion or time. Yet their gray or black shadows appear solid, suggesting that the idea or knowledge of the thing remains constant while the reality is fragile and transient.
The other series, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” depicts outlines, mostly of people. This time, the foreground object is gray, while the shadow is incongruously red. Palosuo models the figures to suggest depth, although they’re not as realistic as the flowers, while the shadows are flat but streaked, as if wood-grained. The “Obliterated Memory” pictures are more engaging, because of their wide range of colors and strong sense of motion. But both series denote the gap between what we see and what we remember seeing.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
On view through Jan. 5 at Heiner Contemporary, 1675 Wisconsin Ave NW; 202-338-0072; www.heinercontemporary.com.
On view through Jan. 6 at District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW, 202-462-7833, www.dcartscenter.org.
On view through Jan. 5 at Cross Mackenzie Gallery, 2026 R St. NW; 202-333-7070; www.crossmackenzie.com.
On view through Jan. 5 at Alex Gallery, 2106 R St. NW; 202-667-2599; www.alexgalleries.com.