Galleries

'Kuroi Shiroi': Project 4 Gets With The Program

By Jessica Dawson
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, June 24, 2006

Fledgling gallery Project 4 had me worried. When it opened in February, the owners told me that they had no director, no program and no gallery experience. Their plan to wing it by using a series of guest curators sounded treacherous. At the time, I figured their sophisticated 900-square-foot space was their only real asset.

Thankfully for Project 4, experience teaches lessons. A few months in, the fellows wised up and hired 27-year-old Anne Surak, formerly of Zenith Gallery, as director. Her first exhibition is a surpassingly well installed selection of work by Laurel Lukaszewski called "Kuroi Shiroi." If it proves a harbinger, Project 4 is a gallery to watch.

Though "Kuroi Shiroi" ("Black White" in Japanese) is ostensibly a sculpture exhibition, the work on view straddles the divide between craft and high art. Lukaszewski's approach to her material -- she uses hard-fired white porcelain and black stoneware -- gives her work the illusion of transcending its medium. It's as if she transformed hard stone into something entirely more alive and lively. And the matte-surface minimal objects that result speak more to form than to color; about half the works are black, the other half creamy white.

Many of Lukaszewski's works are made of coiled pieces of fired clay. The coils interlock to form hanging, freestanding or wall-mounted sculptures. The massive, 16-foot-tall hanging piece that commands the gallery's double-height entrance is an impressive sight, its 350 pounds of interlocking porcelain coils coming together in an organic form suggesting a cocoon or Spanish moss. The stone curls hang off central metal supports that are practically invisible. The work itself hangs, almost too simply to be safe, from a single hook.

Up close, individual coils are almost magically deceiving. Varying in diameter from a quarter-inch to about a half-inch, the components look as if they're made of anything but fired stone. If Surak hadn't wiggled a porcelain coil for me and had it not made that nails-on-chalkboard sound when porcelain scraped porcelain, I might still be convinced Lukaszewski's materials are cookie dough or marzipan. Even the way the artist cut the ends of her curls looks like Pillsbury sugar-cookie tubes on a kitchen cutting board. As for the black pieces, these look as if they're made from the rubber of an old tire. As I moved through the exhibition, I had to remind myself of what I was looking at. Lukaszewski's manipulation is really that good.

Some of these pieces -- the 16-footer in particular but a number of other hanging works as well -- suggest the bravado of Dale Chihuly's glass sculptures. These pieces, too, would be comfortable in a hotel or corporate lobby; they're easy on the eyes and have big presence. Yet they are subtle enough in color and demeanor that they subvert some of their own bluster (which means they're not much like Chihuly after all). Lukaszewski's floor pieces and some of her pedestal-based sculptures have a more organic feeling. They'd feel at home alongside work by an artist such as Tara Donovan. A floor piece installed in a second-floor corner is made of loose scrolls of the kind you'd find in a wrought-iron banister; they huddle on the ground like hibernating animals. Another piece looks as if it's made of big balls of squid-ink fettuccine. The latter is a rather silly thing to come to mind and perhaps not what the artist intended. But it works in a show where minimal forms make maximal impact.

'Space-Domestic' in McLean

"Space-Domestic" looks like an exhibition I've seen before. Its themes -- suburban and societal alienation -- are well trod. Its images, too, represent what's in vogue for a certain younger generation enamored of drawings and drawing-like paintings. And as with the last show with these kinds of pictures and ideas, I didn't find much to grasp on to.

Lily Cox-Richard's Web-inspired work asks fine, but not fresh, questions.
Lily Cox-Richard's Web-inspired work asks fine, but not fresh, questions.
The exhibition is the brainchild of talented artist Jiha Moon. It's her first show as a curator, and her performance is unsteady at best. It was a mistake to include the work of her husband, Andy Moon Wilson, and to give his work pride of place. No matter that his installation conjuring an adult's adolescent angst (rather too convincingly, I might add) fits perfectly well as installed inside the exhibition's front door. When it comes to nepotism, the best strategy is to avoid it.

On the surface, the rest of the show looks okay. Amze Emmons's works on paper using graphite, acrylic and gouache are delicate renditions of big box stores and Jersey barriers that sound uninteresting but look quite the opposite. (One image could be something of an in joke: The shipping containers and folding chairs Emmons depicts remind me of the beachside exhibition spaces that the Art Basel Miami Beach fair is known for.) Lily Cox-Richard's trio of images recasting screen views from Web sites asks prodding questions about the Internet's public-private boundaries. Still, after considerable looking, I'm unconvinced that "Space-Domestic" says anything much new.

Kuroi Shiroi at Project 4, 903 U St. NW, Wednesday-Friday 2-6 p.m., Saturday noon-6 p.m., to July 22. Call 202-232-4340 or visit http://www.project4gallery.com/ .

Space-Domestic at McLean Project for the Arts, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean, Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 1-5 p.m., to July 29. Call 703-790-1953 or visit http://www.mpaart.org/ .


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