The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In the galleries: Simulated stone and neon artworks reflect the transience of life

Nara Park's “The Beginning of Everything” at Washington Harbour in Georgetown, constructed of plastic foam to resemble rocklike memorials. (Joseph Hyde)
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Stone is fundamental to Nara Park’s art, but as an idea, not a material. The Seoul-born D.C. artist constructs rocklike memorials and monoliths from plastics and paints. There’s a practical reason for this, since plastic foam is cheaper and more forgiving — and much, much lighter — than granite. But there’s a conceptual rationale as well. Stone lasts a very long time, and Park’s inspiration is the ephemerality of life.

This preoccupation stems from the death of her father when the artist, born in 1985, was in her 20s. “Touching his hand after he died transformed my perception of the world permanently,” she says on her website.

Park’s response has been to make ersatz monuments like the ones on display at Plain Sight, a pop-up storefront gallery whose small shows are viewable only from the street. The five physical artworks (there’s also an audio one) include a floor piece whose mineral-like cragginess is actually the result of paint and plastic foam beads, and three wall-mounted panels that look like inscribed rock but are in fact Polystyrene foam, plaster and stone-textured paint.

The show’s title, “I Live,” links it to two other current Park pieces, both outdoors and sponsored by Georgetown Glow and the Korean Cultural Center. The lawn at the cultural center is showcasing five phrases written in neon, all the last words of notable people. (“I Live” is the ironic deathbed assertion of Finnish poet Aleksis Kivi.) Park’s contribution to Georgetown Glow, which includes four other light-oriented installations, is “The Beginning of Everything,” a significantly scaled-up model of a nickel-iron meteorite that clobbered Arizona about 50,000 years ago.

The massive extraterrestrial boulder is made of foam covered with reflective glass beads, yet appears to be far more substantial. Although this is not the first time the artist has simulated a naturally occurring stone object, previous efforts were not so imposing. Park’s motivation may still be to highlight the fragility of human existence, but “The Beginning of Everything” feigns a crushing permanence.

Nara Park: I Live Through May 13 at Plain Sight D.C., 3218 Georgia Ave. NW.

The Beginning of Everything Through June 27 at Washington Harbour, 3000 K St. NW.

Neon phrases Through June 27 at the Korean Cultural Center, 2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

Jewish Identity and Authenticity

From a “Goy Division” T-shirt to an explication of the non-Anglo origins of Clark Kent’s name, “Jewish Identity and Authenticity” is nearly as sweeping as its title suggests. The show at the Adas Israel Synagogue includes almost 75 pieces that address both mainstream and individual aspects of Jewish life. Curated by Ori Z. Soltes, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for the Study of Jewish Civilization, the selection includes work by Israelis and Europeans, with about half by local artists.

There are, of course, images inspired by horrors. Included are several haunting paintings of Holocaust victims, derived in part from photographs, and a somber print made in response to the 2018 assault on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. More auspicious is Deborah Addison Coburn’s “Lucky Girl,” a portrait of her mother as a 4-year-old. The young girl was indeed fortunate to have moved to Canada from Poland in the 1930s.

Sacred texts and well-known fables invoke shared experience, but some of the most striking entries depict isolation and division. Michele Amira Pinczuk, who has autism and an autoimmune disease, photographed herself in a hospital, connected to a tangle of tubes. Stephen Sholl photographed Jerusalem’s Western Wall through a partition that suggests the barrier between male and female worshipers. A common heritage doesn’t prevent identity and authenticity from being matters of contention.

Jewish Identity and Authenticity Through May 15 at Adas Israel Synagogue, 2850 Quebec St. NW. Open by appointment.

Francisco Rosario

It could be said that Francisco Rosario’s sculptures have a good beat. Made mostly of copper rods and cherry-wood slats, the local artist’s creations offer variations on regular patterns, in the manner of syncopated rhythms or an ascending scale. Eight of these sleek, lightweight pieces are on the walls of the American Poetry Museum, underneath two all-metal mobiles that hang inconspicuously from the ceiling. The show is titled “Attack/Decay,” musical terms for how a note begins and ultimately fades.

Growing up in D.C., the U.S.-born Salvadoran American was inspired by go-go and, later, hip-hop. Those spare, strongly rhythmic styles echo in his work, which features wooden strips that suggest sheet music and sets of bulging metal bars that resemble sound waves. But the sculptures also are connected by form and process to practical things, such as the handmade household items sold at Material Things, a North Brentwood shop where Rosario is one of the artist-proprietors. “Attack/Decay” demonstrates what the artist can do when he takes his woodworking and metal-smithing skills on a holiday.

Francisco Rosario: Attack/Decay Through May 12 at the American Poetry Museum, 716 Monroe St. NE, No. 25.

Eric Uhlir

Semiabstract yet packed with figurative details, Eric Uhlir’s paintings splash multiple art-history eras into a jumbo blender. Seen from a distance, the large canvases in Culture House’s “Before, After and In Between” recall the intuitive abandon of mid-20th-century expressionism. Yet the fleshy pictures have so many skin tones — tans and browns as well as pinks — that they suggest a more inclusive Peter Paul Rubens or Willem de Kooning. And many of the teeming vignettes are placed in sunny poolside locales reminiscent of David Hockney’s L.A. period, although maybe the settings simply reflect the Southern California upbringing of Uhlir, who’s now based in D.C.

The artist treats the human body — and the occasional dog, deer or lion — mostly as form, shape and space. He often presents heroic poses that dissolve into puddles of paint. Is this the violence of life, or just a brutal technique? Uhlir’s art “brings into play current ideas about climate change, colonialism, human interaction and migration,” according to curator Caitlin Berry’s statement. In other words, devastation looms. Yet in many of these half-melted scenes, it seems to have already arrived.

Eric Uhlir: Before, After and In Between Through May 8 at Culture House, 700 Delaware Ave. SW.

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