By Mark Jenkins
Sunday, December 29, 2013
The cabinet of curiosities, filled with objects of both artistic and scientific interest, dates to the Renaissance. But the idea suits the contemporary art world, with its eclecticism, stylistic diversity and reluctance to anoint one medium or concept over another.
Thus “Curio,” at Heiner Contemporary, includes drawing, painting and sculpture, as well as some hard--to--categorize works.
Sue Johnson’s drawings play on the near--obsolete idea of a “entertainment cabinets” of video and audio equipment; each one employs visual motifs inspired by a long--running TV game show. For “Case Study,” Christine Gray painted an assortment of objects, not all of them literally real; the variety is made more various by being rendered in different styles. Esther Ruiz’s tiny constructions definitely qualify as curiosities; they incorporate simple shapes and bright colors, but most are anchored in rough--textured concrete.
Caitlin Teal Price’s photographs of bird specimens from a university museum are artifacts of kill--it--first naturalism. Made mostly of epoxy resin, Olivia Rodriguez’s sculptures are deft simulations of branches, bugs and fungi. Julie Wolfe fills jars with multicolored water from polluted rivers and streams, injecting them with assorted extractions to yield pretty yellows and oranges.
In collaboration with Colby Waller, Wolfe also made a sound--and--video installation that matches swirling red liquid to droning music. Delicate yet foreboding, the piece suggests that scientific knowledge has not bolstered human wisdom.
Despite being titled “The Straight: Contemporary Geometric Abstraction,” Catalyst Projects’ group show is short on straight lines. They’re not entirely absent but are upstaged by bright colors and flowing, organic forms.
J.T. Kirkland frames his shaped--plywood pieces with parallel--line patterns, yet their main event is the wood’s grain, stained to emphasize its whorls. Although there are some straightaways in Jason Rohlf’s paintings on shop rags, most of the elements are as irregular as the contours of the fabric. The rags are roughly but imperfectly square, much like Marie Ringwald’s tiny assemblages of painted wood and bits of metal, which might be windows for surrealist dollhouses.
Kathryn McDonnell loosens the grid by pouring rather than drawing crosshatches, so that her “drip studies” resemble ink blots more than graph paper. There’s also a liquid quality to her other pictures, painted on Mylar so the pigment dried in place rather seeping into cloth. The largest paintings are by Rushern Baker IV, who contrasts dark and neon--bright colors, such as the glowing pink core of “The Cave.” Yet his is a vision of chaos and conflict, not tidy juxtapositions.
Space is central to the two artists exhibiting at Greater Reston Arts Center but in different ways. Although Jungmin Park is no realist, the Korean--bred Washington artist’s mixed--media works depict recognizable spots: “The D Circle” is Dupont crisscrossed by paths, and “G Town 3” is Georgetown seen from various angles. Her “emotional interpretations of physical places,” as a gallery note puts it, are realized on paper and fabric. Shaped pieces are cut, assembled and suspended, and missing pieces hint at the imperfections of memory.
Ajay Leister’s work is more solid and tactile, yet still elusive. He combines crocheted yarn with spray foam to make earth--toned shapes that resemble both geologic and biomorphic forms, then combines them into teeming arrays. Only one of the pieces is titled “Swarm,” but they all could be. Although silent and immobile, these cotton--and--polymer critters almost seem to buzz and scurry.
When he lived in Ethiopia, D.C. artist Eric Gottesman learned about Baalu Girma, author of the novel “Oromay.” Girma was “disappeared” almost 30 years ago, apparently because his book criticized the military government that then ran the country.
The photographs in Gottesman’s “One Needs to Listen to the Characters One Creates” represent two narratives: the novel’s first chapter (in large--format color vignettes) and Girma’s last days (in small black--and--white Polaroids). There’s also a short video in which a barber transforms the look of a man who’s reading from “Oromay,” accompanied by a song by Debo Band, the Boston Ethio--pop group.
The photos are skillfully made, carefully composed and suitably ominous, like stills from a real--life film noir. “Oromay” may be Girma’s principal legacy, but Gottesman’s project places author and book in a wider context.
Mountainous Bolivian vistas and Aymaran folk symbols are burnished to a pop--art sheen in the drawings and prints of Roberto Mamani Mamani. The hard--edged, vividly colored pictures in “Color, Earth, Andes,” at the Mansion at Strathmore, celebrate the landscape and culture of the artist’s homeland. In addition to peaks and valleys, he idealizes children, condors and the sun and moon, as well as indigenous foods.
Mamani Mamani’s images are modeled on traditional blankets and quilts and rendered most often in bold and often metallic oil pastels. They have a totemic power, even if they do sometimes suggest an Andean Peter Max. And while some of the spirits and deities the artist depicts are obscure in this country, at least one of them is widely venerated: the Archangel of Coffee.