A sense of direction in the middle of 'Nowhere'

WHAT'S IN A NAME? As Jeremy Drummond's "Culture/Whitewash (Spring Melt)" shows us, sometimes a lot.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? As Jeremy Drummond's "Culture/Whitewash (Spring Melt)" shows us, sometimes a lot. (Mclean Project For The Arts And Ada Gallery)
By Jessica Dawson
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 23, 2010

How perfect: a show about the suburbs, in the suburbs.

McLean Project for the Arts hosts Canadian-born, Richmond-based artist Jeremy Drummond's wry chronicles of cul-de-sacs and prefab homes. Drummond skips the easy anti-suburb critique in favor of more piquant offerings in a show called "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere." Included in the exhibition is a photo essay of foreclosed homes in Delaware, which he gives the Bernd and Hilla Becher treatment (Drummond documents, he doesn't judge). Still, this subject matter has been tilled before.

What lodged in my brain was Drummond's "Street Signs" series. These four-foot-across aluminum panels boast close-up photographs (printed onto die-cut decals) of suburban street signs that Drummond spotted during long drives. Some of the he-swears-he-didn't-make-them-up intersections: the corner of Culture Crescent and Whitewash Way, the intersection of Fidelity Avenue and Honeymoon Drive.

What's interesting about these signs is that they look and sound so 1950s (Fidelity!) and so privileged (Culture!). Yet Drummond found some of his signs in communities such as Brampton, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto that the artist says is full of recent immigrants.

"Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" finds Drummond striving to subvert the suburbs' Stepford Wives reputation. But the artist's point might be stronger if he included portraits of the area's inhabitants or clues to the complexities of its population. As it stands, Drummond's open-endedness still allows us our prejudices.

Also at McLean, the ghost of Eadweard Muybridge is in the house. Perfectly timed -- coincidentally, I'm told -- to the Corcoran's blockbuster show of the 19th-century pioneer of motion studies (hands down the most bizarre and interesting museum show in a while), District artist Michael Mansfield riffs on Muybridge's movement studies in a solo show of digital video and works on paper.

Mansfield's video works dominate this show with their jarring, curiously magnetic images of men running and walking, horses galloping and bulls moseying. When Mansfield applies one species's gait to another -- as in a stout bull with a horse's princess trot -- the uncanny results are as intriguingly odd as Muybridge's own work.

Mansfield's most conceptually hefty work is the single-channel video "Reeds," where a field of reeds shiver in a breeze as birds alight and take off from them. Mansfield composed the picture from just a fragment of video of the reeds, which he repeats across the screen. He sees the work as a metaphor for how our brains operate -- we receive a little information and then we make the rest up using what little we know. As for the video's redheaded birds, they're composites, too: Their wings come from a D?rer painting, their heads and beaks from the illustrations of a French ornithologist.

Over at Studio Gallery, I've got two painters for you to see. Head to the second floor, where much of the wall space is devoted to "Thomas Drymon Selects." Greeting us at the top of the landing and in the room to the right are Peter Harper's bright, pop paintings with big gestures and a studied messiness; they're the kind of paintings I'd imagine video artist/provocateur Ryan Trecartin would make if he did that sort of thing.

What are these paintings? Outgoing, splashy, rebellious. Harper lays on the oil and spray paint so thick that you can put your nose up to the canvas and smell the studio.

Double back upstairs and you'll see Joren Lindholm's paintings and collages. The collages you can skip -- their easy surrealist juxtapositions tell us about Lindholm's process (he bases his paintings on them) but don't amount to much by themselves.

Translated into paintings, though, Lindholm's disjointed imagery really works. The diptych "The Traveler and the Travel" is two panels whose size and edges don't quite line up, though the image continues from one canvas to the next (in a slightly different form) and both share a purple-pink under-painting. They're united in some ways and not in others, mirroring the ambiguities of contemporary life.

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