Margot Kernan's images turn out to be a flimsy structure for the weight of her ideas, even though a number of her photographs in "Temples and Sanctuaries" at the Jones Troyer Gallery depend upon the fortresslike architecture of the Banff Springs hotel in Canada. That 19th-century resort hotel is but one of the metaphorical supports for Kernan's ideas, which deal with architectural space as a temple, a sanctuary, a childhood refuge and a secret place of myth and ritual.
Other vehicles for these concepts are three photographs of girls participating in a religious ritual in Italy, an elegant portfolio of photographs of Roman ruins, and a videotape, "Hiding," in which the Banff Springs hotel is transformed into the setting for a childhood fable of the loss of innocence.
There are too many stylistic divergences for these works to form a seamless whole. The hotel photographs -- mostly interiors -- veer from formalistic exercises (the grid patterns of "Gameboard") to documents without any particular emotional weight to poetic images that imply the symbolic ("Chairs," for example). Integrated into these are photographs of white-clad girls at the Santa Maria festival in Sicily; with their fragmentary, postmodernist cropping, they seem like the work of another photographer.
Then come the miniature neoclassical landscapes that echo the 19th century: Here we have hints of Maxime Du Camp or Francis Frith, those gentlemen of leisure who invented the photographic perusal of ancient ruins a century ago.
And yet another artist is revealed by "Hiding," which reinforces an earlier notion that Kernan's real forte might be in video or filmmaking. Here we have a literary Kernan, whose evocative musings on the summer vacation of a young girl and her sister in their grandmother's mansion (the Banff Springs hotel transformed) sets a melancholy and mysterious tone that seems just right for the notion of childhood as a refuge and sanctuary, and maybe a temple, too.
Even if the whole isn't seamless, other parts of this ambitious show are provocative in themselves. The portfolio of Sicilian classical ruins, almost always seen from afar as if to equate physical space with temporal distance, includes serene evocations of place.
I particularly liked the "Temple of Castor and Pollux," in which a wedding party, almost too small to see (which makes them grow larger in the imagination), poses among the ruins of the temple.
Jones Troyer is also showing Lloyd Wolf's photographs of Vietnam veterans, which also can be seen in the new book "Facing the Wall," a collaboration between photographer Wolf and writer Duncan Spencer.
These are direct portraits, uncompromising and honest, but without Spencer's strong words they seem out of context.
All of which points up the value of the book as a collaborative effort: By uniting their strengths, Wolf and Spencer have undoubtedly made an important contribution to the recent outpouring of testimonies from Vietnam veterans.
Kernan's "Temples and Sanctuaries" closes July 5, and Lloyd Wolf's portraits remain up until June 26.
The Jones Troyer Gallery, 1614 20th St. NW (the corner of Hillyer and 20th streets) is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
Washington artist G. Byron Peck's flashy airbrush paintings are on view this month at the Govinda Gallery. For the most part hyper-real portraits of young women, these slick works are anything but realistic, with their simultaneous mix of the hot (day-glo auto-body colors that dazzle and flash) and the cool (reality is nothing but image and all the beautiful women portrayed have the same ironic demeanor: a combination of disdain and subtle invitation).
These are very contemporary-looking works, with a "Miami Vice" sheen and postmodern fondness for cultural clutter that indiscriminately mixes formalist grid patterns with lines and colors from sci-fi illustrations or rock albums, all of which coexist comfortably with trompe l'oeil photos lifted from real-estate ads, Renaissance and/or surrealist landscapes and new wave couture.
Also contemporary is the primacy of the photograph: One of the messages of these photo-derived paintings with their illusionist images that peel away to reveal other images is that the photograph is presented not as a metaphor but a substitute for reality.
In Byron Peck's world it's all image and illusion, passion masked by irony, and everything seems as recent as the Japanese-cut clothes and multicolored hair of his models.
At their weakest, there's not much below the surface of these paintings, but at their best ("Tattoo"; "Momoli"; "Die Blaue Mond") they return to haunt you.
Peck's work can be seen until June 21. Govinda, 1227 34th St. NW, is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.