THE WASHINGTON art scene may experience a seismic shift this fall as a handful of Washington's premier galleries take up new residence on 14th Street NW.
Joining pioneers Fusebox (now entering its fourth year in the Logan Circle neighborhood) and Transformer (two years old this summer, in a hole-in-the-wall just down the block from Whole Foods Market), Hemphill Fine Arts of Georgetown and the David Adamson Gallery of Seventh Street NW will soon open shop in a refurbished building at 1515 14th St., hard by the stalwart Studio Theatre's latest expansion, which is scheduled to open in November. Earlier this month, G Fine Art, which had temporarily relocated to Blagden Alley NW after shutting down its Georgetown space several months ago, opened a new exhibition of paintings and drawings by Maggie Michael in the new building.
Rounding out what is being billed as the 14th Street Arts Coalition will be something called the Curator's Office, a space where former McLean Project for the Arts gallery director and freelance curator Andrea Pollan will offer curatorial, art-consulting and exhibition services.
If you missed the coalition's multi-site opening party last weekend, three shows are worth checking out. The best of the bunch is James Huckenpahler's "Places I've Never/Always Been," a sensuous segue into sci-fi territory from his series of pictures of artificial skin. Taking a cue from his title, it's clear that, at least on one level, Huckenpahler's gorgeous, large-scale computer prints -- which often appear to imitate the roiling surface of molten glass or metal -- are meant to be taken as landscapes of a sort. Yet, unlike the traditional vistas, they have no horizons (let alone soil), leading viewers to guess that we may be looking down, as from a spacecraft, on the surface topography of some ever-shifting and inhospitable (yet oddly seductive) liquid planet.
That's the places-I've-never-been part.
At the same time, Huckenpahler's title more than hints at the familiar. For there's a whiff of the biological/anatomical here as well, as though these images might be documentary evidence of some "Fantastic Voyage"-style journey inside the body, where corpuscles and mucous membranes form their own interior, microscopic landscape. At any rate, the work, which the artist writes is actually based on computer-distorted and -manipulated portraits of faces, is both strange and comforting, hyper-real and utterly fake, like the best and most convincing dramas.
In Fusebox's backroom Project Space, Kristofer Lee's achingly fine figure drawings share that alien-next-door aesthetic. It's clear from reading his artist's statement that there are conceptual underpinnings to Lee's otherworldly female nudes, but take my advice and skip the turgid prose. His work -- as suggested by the show's neologistic title, "Polysynchronica," which refers to multiple images of the same figure, or figures, moving through time and space -- is as much in debt to Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" as anything.
Transformer's "sub-TEXT," a word-themed show of three artists associated with San Antonio's small but well-regarded alternative Sala Diaz space, offers much food for thought, particularly in the way it focuses attention on written content by subtly taking it out of context. Chuck Ramirez's laminated-window installation of advertising slogans, for instance, ("Live richly," "Drink Responsibly") adds an unexpected gravitas to his source material, even as it highlights its inanity.
Other works in the show, including a presentation of Luis Bunuel's surrealist film, "The Exterminating Angel" -- edited by artist Jesse Amado to exclude all but the subtitled frames -- and Andrea Caillouet's conceptualist action, "Fortune," in which a thousand or so folded pieces of paper with the words "Longing" and Belonging" were inserted, sans permission, into random books at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, call into question meaning and legibility. What is meant to be read or not read, and the sometimes frustrating space between the two extremes, is central to this show's theme, as evidenced by Amado's "Gibberish," a sculptural sandwich of meaningless letters that evokes everything from Robert Indiana's famously cheesy "Love" statue to Jim Sanborn's encrypted metal-screen messages.
Finally, Michael's show at G Fine Art continues the painter's explorations of thickly poured paint's quasi-sculptural ability to elicit both juicy form and nutritional content. In Michael's case, you see, form is content.
With pictures that take their inspiration from the Washington Color School, Japanese ukiyo-e landscapes, and graffiti, her art isn't really about anything so much as other pictures.
JAMES HUCKENPAHLER: PLACES I'VE NEVER/ALWAYS BEEN and KRISTOFER LEE: POLYSYNCHRONICA -- Through Oct. 30 at Fusebox, 1412 14th St. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-299-9220. www.fuseboxdc.com. Open Tuesday-Thursday noon to 6; Fridays and Saturdays noon to 8. Free.
SUB-TEXT: A SALA DIAZ/TRANSFORMER EXCHANGE PROJECT -- Through Oct. 16 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-483-1102. www.transformergallery.org. Open Thursdays and Fridays 3 to 8; Saturdays 1 to 6. Free. Programs associated with the exhibition include a gallery talk Saturday at 2.
MAGGIE MICHAEL: RUN -- Through Oct. 16 at G Fine Art, 1515 14th St. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-638-3105 (Octagon info line). www.gfineartdc.com. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11 to 6. Free.