Lines, vines and boulevards are among the tendrils depicted in three separate but thematically overlapping shows at Hillyer Art Space. The most austere work is Jarri Hasnain’s “Constructions,” which arrays (and sometimes embosses) Euclidian figures on predominantly gray fields. The forms get more tangled in the work of Pam Rogers, who bases her work on plants, and Eszter Bornemisza, whose primary inspiration is the street grid of her native Budapest.
As might be expected from his hard-edged, formalist approach, Hasnain trained as an architect. The textures of his prints suggest the grain of marble or granite, and the simple lines could be engraved patterns or diagrams of steel girders. The Virginia artist sometimes adds touches of red, blue or yellow, either as dots or triangles. For the lightest touch of whimsy, he makes one of those triangles blue, and folds it like a paper airplane.
The paintings in Rogers’s “Field Guild: The Preface” employ mulberry-based pigments that yield muted, natural colors. The Arlington-based artist studied botanical illustration at London’s Kew Gardens, a training evident in her style. But collage is just as central to her work, which jumbles seeds, twigs, cones and dried flowers. Rogers sometimes ties found organic objects inside ornate frames, as if to suggest she just can’t improve on them.
Mulberry paper joins fabric, newsprint and a computer circuit board among the materials assembled into multi-layered maps in Bornemisza’s “Urban Textures,” a tour of the Hungarian capital that’s both objective and personal. The outlines of the Danube and major streets appear as shapes, but also as absences, cut out of the three-level “Lungs of the City.” The hanging collages include text in multiple languages and silhouettes of people, as ghostly as the shadows the pieces cast on the wall. In Bornemisza’s hometown tapestries, the intangible is as real as the concrete.
Eszter Bornemisza: Urban Textures; Jarri Hasnain: Constructions; Pam Rogers: Field Guild: The Preface On view through May 31 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Court NW; 202-338-0325; www.hillyerartspace.org
In Jonathan Monaghan’s “Alien Fanfare,” baroque architecture meets consumer culture in the most open of neutral territories: outer space. Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is the precursor of one sequence in this video animation, but the local artist also incorporates Albrecht Dürer’s 16th-century woodcut “Triumphal Arch” and an ATM that floats away like George Clooney’s character in “Gravity.” While Monaghan’s work conjures a sense of motion and the sensation of weightlessness, it also has a puckish wit.
The 15-minute video is the centerpiece of the show at Studio 1469, the current home of Curator’s Office. Also on display are digital prints derived loosely from Dürer’s, architectural models produced by a 3D printer and a 2013 animation, “Mothership.” Both videos meld venerable and futuristic, exalted and commercial, mechanized and organic. In “Mothership,” a cow stands atop a spaceship, with well-known buildings atop the animal’s back in a sort of skyscraper theme park.
Using Studio Max software, Monaghan alone does what armies of animators do for movie and game animation firms. Where his earlier work repurposed characters and locales from video games, the artist now combines motifs from sci-fi, corporate iconography, and art and architecture history. When the Surrealists did them, such juxtapositions were ragged and jarring. Today, they’re graceful and seamless, part of a digital dreamscape in which all our ideas and experiences can be smoothly synthesized.
Jonathan Monaghan: Alien Fanfare On view through May 31 at Studio 1469, 1469 Harvard St. NW, rear; 202-518-0804; www.studio1469.com
Is It Propaganda?
The questions asked by the current show at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art are the ones regularly posed by the gallery: “Is It Propaganda? Or Is It Political Art?” Clearly many of the pieces are propaganda — or were. The selection includes anti-American posters from 1970s Vietnam and anti-Western ones from the Soviet Union.
Also on display are two vivid paintings of Mao from post-Maoist Shanghai, an 18th-century painting of “the last Inca” (an anti-colonial statement at the time), and a picture of blindfolded schoolgirls by American photographer John Michael Rusnak, made in Cuba and banned by that country’s authorities (which accepted the rest of the suite).
Much of the work is inarguably artful; the poster-makers who depicted Ho Chi Minh as a benevolent spirit and Richard Nixon as a bloody-jowled beast both had a flair for likenesses, if not an abundance of subtlety. But the renderings of a martyred Che Guevara and Soviet soldiers triumphant over Nazis are so familiar that they seem as commonplace as the product logos Monaghan incorporates into his videos. Still, if such work now appears dated, the same can be said of much art that hides or simply lacks a political outlook.
Is It Propaganda? Or Is It Political Art? On view through May 31 at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art, 1300 13th St. NW, 202-638-3612, www.charleskrausereporting.com
Voyage of Discovery
The coming collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, recently forecast by scientists, adds urgency to “Voyage of Discovery,” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Three local artists made artifacts from an imaginary region where ice has receded. Ellyn Weiss constructed fanciful wax specimens of life forms that might be discovered. Jessica Beels crafted steel-and-paper models, greatly enlarged, of microscopic tropical organisms that are migrating into colder waters. Michele Banks filled petri dishes with tiny paintings that represent the microbes newly evident in polar regions.
The artists collaborated not only on the overall concept but also on individual pieces, such as simulated ice cores made from sheets of recycled plastic. The art is supported by such scientific evidence as a chart that shows the decline in Arctic sea ice from 1979 to 2012, and a booklet that includes quotations from Darwin, Voltaire and musician Brian Eno, whose albums include “Another Green World.” There’s something of Eno’s sensibility in this show, with its simple forms, limited palette and watery pigments on paper and plastic. The three artists write that they sought “to avoid prettifying the catastrophic change wrought by a warming planet,” but there is beauty in their depiction of a vanishing blue world.
Voyage of Discovery: Michele Banks, Jessica Beels, Ellyn Weiss On view through May 31 at American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Ave. NW; www.aaas.org
Jenkins is a freelance writer.