Two artists' takes on urbanism, one bleak, the other exuberantly bleak. Irvine Contemporary Art has paired Brooklyn-based painters John Copeland and Nicola Lopez, whose works reverberate off each other in a low hum.
Copeland's pictures combine drawing and painting with graphic art and collage. Here and there, he stitches together pieces of paper and canvas as if making a quilt; his sewing is so tight it's neurotic. The anxiety adds to the mood of his paintings, which celebrate urban anomie in images of utility poles, the blank sides of tenements and other views of low-rent neighborhoods.
Now and again, the artist scrawls words onto his canvases in a jittery, caffeinated script. Words like "edge" appear near the actual edge of one picture, or a flock of birds spells out "maybe" in the sky. These messages bring to mind album art, back when rock album covers were objects of adolescent fascination. The scenes recall an extended, disaffected youth.
If Copeland is a poet of blight, then Lopez celebrates cacophony. Orgiastic systems of pipes, tubes and pumps fill her works on paper. Think futurist outer space industrial wasteland. Though her gurgling, sputtering conduits and systems of water and oil connote old economy, the pictures hum with a futuristic frenzy, as if painted as backdrops for a dystopian graphic novel.
Lopez's signature work here is an installation called "Fallen Giants," where cut paper and Mylar are mounted in a gallery corner so the paper curls and bulges. A drawing coming off the wall suggests a drawing come to life, but the old TVs and other relics of a technological Stone Age her installation depicts come off as benign rather than menacing.
New York's Museo del Barrio recently selected "Fallen Giants" for its fall biennial; another Lopez installation currently appears in P.S. 1's mammoth survey of young art, "Greater New York." Lopez's success is no surprise: Her retro themes and affection for systems and interconnectedness appeal to contemporary art fashion. Hopefully Copeland's quieter works will catch on, too.
Y. David Chung at Flashpoint
Y. David Chung revisits his Korean roots in a suite of prints and one large-scale drawing at Flashpoint. The 10-print linocut series transports 10 common Korean symbols of longevity found in traditional folk paintings to modern-day America. Prints rendered in stark black and white -- linocuts like these yield no gradations of gray -- make an effective visual vehicle for this clash of time and culture.
Yet the results are mixed. Most of Chung's pictures illustrate a fairly predictable, pessimistic view of modern immigrant life. Among the symbols imported from Korean lore are deer, which Chung shows grazing by a highway just feet from speeding vehicles. Another sign of longevity, the turtle, scoots around a cramped aquarium. And fortuitous mushrooms sprout willfully between sidewalk cracks while awaiting a passing pedestrian's misstep. The series's real weakness, though, is its simplistic format. Like the final verse of that Christmas carol recounting the 12 drummers drumming on down to the fowl in a fruit tree, Chung's series seems too straightforward.
"The Ten Immortals," Chung's ambitious black oil stick drawing on paper, makes culture clash a lot more interesting. At 27 feet long and nearly 10 feet high, the piece begs for extended viewing. A city scene meets a nature scene: It depicts a claustrophobic, tightly wound world where trash heaps meet freeway overpasses and cranes circle over fragments of train stations. Chung has crafted a picture so rich, your eyes won't stop circling through it.
30th Anniversary at the Federal Reserve
Oops, they did it again? The Federal Reserve Board's current exhibition celebrating the institution's 30th anniversary of collecting doesn't exactly duplicate the 25th-year edition. But it sure comes close.
While I regret discouraging a visit to architect Paul Cret's stunning 1930s building, with its elevators lined in wood marquetry and its grand marbled atrium turned gallery, if you saw the last Fed survey, or any number of shows there recently, you've seen this one already.
The collection's holdings include American artists and a few Europeans. Many are lesser-known lights from the 19th and 20th centuries, a few are renowned and represented by solid if unspectacular work. Arthur Dow's nice Japanese-print-inspired "Tidal Pools," on view in an exhibition here last year, is worth a second look. The cerulean Sam Gilliam from 1972 is a minor work, small in scale and featuring canvas stretched around a support rather than draped from the wall. I did enjoy Lee Krasner's small but exciting canvas in swaths of blood-red pigment; she gives the cool machismo of abstract expressionism a blast of girl power.
To my dismay, the Fed rehung its unfortunate ode to 1970s plasticware, Jeanette Pasin Sloan's 1978 "For Juice," a colored pencil and acrylic number whose subject is mugs awaiting a washing. Another familiar face: Otis Kaye's pair of works on paper riffing on Picasso's 1904 etching "The Frugal Repast." Yes, Kaye's trompe l'oeil skills are in fine order in these pictures. But his take on taxes is a one-note joke.
John Copeland and Nicola Lopez at Irvine Contemporary Art, 1710 Connecticut Ave. NW, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 202-332-8767, to July 16.
Y. David Chung: Ten at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW, Tuesday-Saturday noon-6 p.m., 202-315-1310, to July 16.
A Collection in Formation: 1975-2005, the Art Collection of the Federal Reserve Board at the Federal Reserve Board, 20th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, open Monday-Friday, 24-hour advance reservation required, 202-452-3778, to Aug. 19.
In Y. David Chung's ambitious "The Ten Immortals," city meets nature. At 27 feet long and nearly 10 feet high, the drawing demands -- and deserves -- extended viewing.