Furniture is devolving and vehicles are becoming reptilian in two shows at VisArts at Rockville, in which practical skills turn intriguingly impractical. Kenneth Martin’s “Sculpture and Casework,” upstairs in the complex’s Kaplan Gallery, includes examples of the cabinetmaker’s regular work but is devoted mostly to pieces that defy usefulness. John R.G. Roth’s “Polymorphic Conveyance,” downstairs at the Gibbs Street Gallery, draws on the sculptor’s background as a research lab’s prototype maker but has a mad scientist’s aesthetic.
Martin’s exhibition includes four pieces of actual furniture, which demonstrate his finesse. After that, things get messy. The Maryland sculptor constructs ungainly stacks of found objects, or inserts blocks of finished lumber into larger slabs of raw wood; slats protrude from boards, and thin poles trail like tentacles. Martin sometimes shapes his material into clean, simple shapes: “Night Country Road” is a half-circle of ebonized oak, with a post at one end. Similarly elegant is “Big Bender,” the show’s largest piece, and the only one made entirely of metal. Two towering steel arcs splay from a column wrapped in metal fencing. Characteristically, the piece’s steel limbs are not symmetrical. It seems that Martin gets his fill of equilibrium when crafting chests, tables and writing stands.
The two most common elements in Roth’s show are wheels and sheet-metal skins that give the impression of scales. His “conveyances” have the sheen of fish, or perhaps some forgotten breed of aquatic dinosaur. (One glistening, headless critter is titled “Cretaceous Mode.”) Roth, who teaches sculpture in Norfolk, combines the organic and the mechanical: “Surreptitious Return” is sort of a Loch Ness Foot, guided by small propellers; “Divine Imperial Commuter” is part tank, part lizard, part 5:05 to Manassas; and “Crux Navis” is a shiny-scaled ship with a cross for a sail, floating on a plexiglass sea.
Some of these concoctions are free-standing, but others are placed inside cases, as though they’re exhibits in an unnatural history museum. Roth likes fire and smoke, which he conveys with, respectively, red lights or billows of cotton wool, sometimes dyed black. There’s a bit of the steampunk sensibility to this work, which encompasses industrial smokestacks and antique diving gear as well as fish and dinosaurs. The show’s closest thing to a self-portrait might be “Personal Watercraft,” in which a woman pilots a large tanker ship as if it’s a two-seater speedboat. She’s probably headed to those uncharted seas where silvery sea monsters mate with VRE trains.
Sculpture and Casework;
John R.G. Roth: Polymorphic Conveyance
on view through Feb. 16 at Kaplan and Gibbs Street galleries, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville; 301-315-8200, www.visartscenter.org.
Forest Z. Allread
Some artists build cabinets; others fill them. Forest Z. Allread’s “Cabinets of Curiosity,” at Transformer, invokes the Renaissance-era tradition of the wunderkammer: a refined person’s collection of marvelous items, both artistic and scientific. Life isn’t quite so genteel these days, so Allread doesn’t use the classiest of containers. Many of his cabinets are cigar boxes or plastic milk crates.