Before Flickr, Facebook and Photobucket, there was the slide show. One couple, for example, traveled the world in the 1960s and ’70s, capturing glimpses of landmarks and landscapes, wildlife and (fairly often) the female member of the team.
This trove of Kodachrome memories was ultimately donated to a university, which eventually decided the slides weren’t all that special.
Enter Vesna Pavlovic, a Serbian-born artist who’s an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University. She took the 35 millimeter slide collection as the basis for installations such as “Projected Images,” currently at G Fine Art. Pavlovic is not interested in these pictures for their own sake — although you’ll notice she does spotlight such postcard-worthy snapshots as one of a lion in the African veldt — but for what they say about memory and erosion.
Fading color photos readily evoke decay, because they are actually deteriorating. Details vanish, and the hues shift toward an unnaturally scarlet-heavy palette. In such works as “Kodachrome Red” (the one with the lion) and “Vanishing Landscape,” Pavlovic freezes the image as she first encountered it, and then prints it with a contemporary process to yield large prints that will not fade. Loss is arrested midway, and enshrined permanently as a reminder of impermanence.
The show’s centerpiece is a kinetic photocollage, “Search for Landscapes,” in which five antique Kodak slide projectors flash images from the collection on five screens. The screens overlap, the timing is random and the pictures are sometimes superimposed. Pavlovic proposes that this pileup of shopworn depictions of U.S. travelers abroad recalls a “time of projection of American power” — a formulation that seems more word play than insight. Rather than express what the artist calls “a fading of the framed experiences in American consciousness,” the jumbled array better evokes the chaos of memory.
Pavlovic doesn’t just toy with the slides’ found images. She also presents parts of the technology as art objects themselves, with crisp photographs of such things as a slide carousel and a handwritten list of photos. In a second installation, a single white slide is projected on a screen that’s been painted black, yielding a square of slightly muddy light. It’s the proverbial blank slate, but rather than suggesting hope, it projects loss.
Joseph Cornell didn’t roam the planet; part of his mystique is that he rarely left the borough of Queens. But he built universes in boxes, such as “Untitled (Celestial Navigation),” a collection of found objects that’s a little outer-space odyssey in a box. This simple yet complex 1958 construction is on display at the Curator’s Office, with three recent works that link to Cornell’s work. The show was curated by Todd Levin, and named “An Architect’s Dream” after a Kate Bush song.
Of the newer pieces, Haim Steinbach’s “juicy salif and kong 1A” is a one-liner, pitting a rubber dog chew against a Phillipe Starck-designed lemon squeezer. The other two are considerably more complicated. Rashid Johnson’s “Run Archie Run” uses a mirrored tile, spattered black wax and the cover of Archie Shepp’s “Montreux Two” to suggest a large slice of African American history. A playwright and professor as well as a jazz saxophonist, Shepp embodies cultural resistance, and Johnson’s piece bristles in tribute.
Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist’s “Sparking of the Domesticated Synapses” is an assemblage of everyday stuff that includes toys, rocks and a spray bottle. Its central objects are live flowers and watering can, but the piece is not about the simple pleasures of the garden. A small projector, hidden within a green plastic watering can, shows a five-minute video in which hands arrange flowers, clean a vase and pick up bird eggs. With a few things and gestures, Rist depicts the drudgery behind the well-appointed home. Her vignette may be quieter than Johnson’s, but it’s no less pointed.
Inspired by shadows and the ancient Greeks, Sica makes art that recalls the bold shapes and elongated forms of mid-20th-century European sculpture. The one-named 80-year-old New York artist is showing a range of work at the Sculpture Space at 1111 Pennsylvania, with an emphasis on highly polished bronzes. The show is titled “Sailing to Byzantium,” after a poem by William Butler Yeats, and Sica shares that author’s interest in classical themes. Amid such pieces as “Valley of the Kings,” however, are more whimsical ones, with titles such as “Carole Lombard’s Little Black Dress.” Some of the more evocative pieces, including “Ulysses” and “Sailor and His Girl,” forgo glistening surfaces for a patina that makes them appear as primeval as their themes.
Many of Sica’s glistening sculptures emphasize two-dimensional form over volume, and look as if they’ve been cut from thin sheets of bronze. It’s not a huge jump from these to the artist’s works with paper — metal-coated paper, of course. She cuts and glues circles, square and crescents, adding oil paint and metallic powder and then fusing the pieces together under pressure. Such constructions as “Viewing the Earth from the Moon” are among the show’s most compelling works, because they contrast elementary shapes with a wealth of weathered hues.
The title of Shelley Lowenstein’s show at Touchstone Gallery is “Rail Ways,” but she’s not a trainspotter. She’s more of a people watcher, with a secondary interest in monumental architecture. Her oil paintings depict the crowds and spaces in D.C.’s Union Station, as well as at similar locales in Maryland, Italy, France and New Zealand. The subjects range from the sweeping to the intimate, and from the elegant (New York’s Grand Central Terminal) to the shabby (the same city’s Pennsylvania Station).
Lowenstein works from photographs, as she is demonstrating at the gallery most Friday and Saturday afternoons for the rest of the month. But her style is not photorealist. It emphasizes warm color and free gesture over hard-edged precision, and is more attuned to people and their surroundings than to the mechanics of light and reflection. The results are not revelatory, but they are engaging. Especially if you’re something of a trainspotter.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
Through June 30 at G Fine Art, G Fine Art, 1350 Florida Ave. NE, www.gfineartdc.com, 202-462-1601.
Through June 30 at Curator’s Office, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-387-1008; www.curatorsoffice.com.
Through June 23 at the Sculpture Space at 1111 Pennsylvania Ave NW; 202-783-2963; www.zenithgallery.com.
Through July 1 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW, 202-347-2787, www.touchstonegallery.com.