“Water” might seem a simple theme for a simple medium, but the Old Print Gallery’s current show includes some dense, complicated work. Even the more direct images can be multilayered, inviting repeated gazes. Ilse Schreiber Noll’s “Along the Hudson III,” for example, consists just of black areas on textured paper that’s been hand-colored with blue and glimmers of gold. The dark palette suggests moonlight on the river, but it could be sunlight, as well, and the black lines might be ripples, shadows or mountains.
Many of the other works are similarly modest in form yet evocative of larger things and forces. Of Stanley Kaplan’s two linoleum cuts, “White Cloud” conjures a ship and cloud with a few lines of blue and black, while “Sea View” is a stark black-and-white vision of herringbone ocean and sky. William J. Behnken’s “Oceana” depicts tropical fish in dark black and white, showing the creatures’ patterns rather than hues.
Several of the other prints are dramatically more colorful. The blue, green and yellow of Philip Bennet’s “Splash,” an oil-based monotype, are so vivid they seem not to have dried fully. Clare Romano’s collograph, “Tidal Patterns,” arrays abstract bands of textured color that evoke sea, sky and sand.
There are also works of extraordinary detail, such as Art Werger’s “Requiem,” a mezzotint of a rocky shore. Another intricate mezzotint, Frederick Mershimer’s “Moonlight,” shows a furious array of clouds, dramatically backlighted by an unseen moon, over a calm expanse of water.
In two large black-and-white pictures, Peter Milton pushes Mershimer’s near-photographic style into the realm of surrealism. “Waterfall,” a digital print, seems to combine painting and photography in a Dali-meets-Wagner vision of glimmering waters, lounging Rhine maidens and fluttering birds that meet leaping fish in midair. Even wilder is “Interior V: Water Music,” in which musicians float in a semi-submerged salon, while a whale swims behind them. It could be the interior of an ocean liner or a spaceship, but however baroque the image, the presence of water gives it a primal power.
The island of Jaina, once called Hina, is among those ancient places whose meaning has been misplaced. The exhibition at the Mexican Cultural Institute is titled “Hina/Jaina: On the Threshold of the Mayan Underworld,” but not all archaeologists would accept that subtitle. Many people were buried on Jaina, a human-made isle separated from Yucatan’s mainland by a narrow inlet, mostly between the years 600 and 900. The small piece of land may have been a necropolis, chosen because the area’s freshwater sinkholes led people to consider it a gateway to another plane of existence. Perhaps it was a site for the sacrifice of humans. But what happened on Jaina is no more settled than what occurred at, say, Stonehenge.
A significant difference between those two places is that Jaina’s heritage is a lot more portable. The island is known for its ceramic figurines, which were interred with corpses buried there. The small clay sculptures depict both the human and the divine, and they are notable for their craft and detail but also for their variety. They were not made to a general model, but instead show the breadth of Mayan society and cosmology. Whether the human statuettes depict actual people is unknown, but the likenesses are not idealized and sometimes seem quite specific.
This handsomely mounted display includes more than 50 small figurines made in the manner known as “Jaina style,” which is something of a misnomer. Similar pieces have been found throughout the region, and scholars agree that none was crafted on the island. (The character of the clay links them to Jonuta, about 275 miles away.) But Jaina is where many of them were buried, obviously for a reason. That purpose remains a mystery, as is any explanation for the large numbers of figurines that incorporate whistles or rattles. Were they designed to make noise in this world or another one? Whatever their role in the afterlife, the figurines’ depiction of costumes, jewelry and scarification provide a vivid sense of how Mayans lived on our side of the threshold.
For the sixth summer, Honfleur Gallery is hosting work by artists “with connections to the communities that lie east of the Anacostia River.” Those links can be clearly evident in this year’s “East of the River.” Bruce McNeil’s “A River Divide — A Tale of Two Cities,” for example, is an impressionistic photograph of light on the Anacostia. But other work is more generally about African American or immigrant experiences, or entirely personal. Muralist Rik Freeman’s colorful and energetic “Moses Train” is a parable of the Great Migration from south to north, compressed to a single railroad car, while Melani Douglass’s “Synthaethesia” uses a notebook computer to illustrate how her mind associates colors with sounds.
Tommie Adams, an Omaha native who lives in Washington, is showing “Peace in Sepia,” a male nude whose legs are wrapped in fabric; its crisp lines and forms suggest classical sculpture. More typical of the show, however, are documentary shots, including Luis Peralta’s “L4 Love,” which depicts street gamblers, and Jonathan French’s “Alberta at Blackburn,” one in a series of images of venerable black musicians. Deborah Terry and Lawrence Green are both D.C. natives, but their views of, respectively, a prairie billboard and an ambling giraffe take the eye a long way from Good Hope Road SE. More urban are Tim Rodgers Jr.’s spray-painted skateboard decks, Danielle Scruggs’s stark renderings of murder victims and Terence Nicholson’s video of his art-punk band, Thaylobleu. It’s a far-ranging show that can invoke both Greco-Roman statuary and Bad Brains.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through Sept.14 at the Old Print Gallery, 1220 31st St. NW; 202-965-1818; www.oldprintgallery.com .
on view through Sept. 22 at the Mexican Cultural Institute, 2829 16th St. NW; 202-728-1628; www.instituteofmexicodc.org.
on view through Sept. 8 at Honfleur Gallery,
1241 Good Hope Rd. SE; 202-536-8994; www.honfleurgallery.com .