The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In the galleries: Unique and unexpected perspectives on this moment in time

A year of extremes, 2020 has driven some people to claim the streets and others to cloister at home. Several current and recent group shows in local galleries have been more in sync with the first group. “Moments in Time . . . A Very Weird Time” at the Athenaeum is closer to the second. The 52 artists invited to participate by curator Twig Murray impressively span outlooks, styles and media. But isolation and alienation are recurring themes.

Painter Jon-Joseph Russo’s “Contained” places a nude man inside a box within the secondary confinement of the rectangular canvas, while the figure in Roger Walkup’s woodcut nests alone in shadows. Street scenes are suitably eerie: Half-there humans haunt intimate spaces in both Chuck Williams’s oil and Molly Kelly Ryan’s photograph, and a solitary person sits at a D.C. bus stop in a Ruth Lozner painting that evokes Edward Hopper’s lonely moments — with the up-to-date addition of a cellphone.

More playfully, a few contributors portray animals. Painter Susan Shalowitz divides two shore birds across a pair of small, sea-gray canvases and titles the duo “#social distance.” In Stephen Crossett’s wry surrealist pastel, a masked man is accompanied by a four-legged best friend who’s wearing a gas mask.

Those are, unsurprisingly, not the only face coverings on display. June Linowitz’s sculptural drawing, mixed-media and monochromatic, foregrounds a mask, a few thin levels above a set of wary eyes. Combining seclusion and engagement, Nilou Kazemzadeh collages masks from newspaper scraps bearing recent headlines.

Some artists put the pandemic under a microscope. Virus spores and other miniature forms, depicted with various degrees of realism, feature in intricate drawing-paintings by Elizabeth Casqueiro, Joan Slottow, Betsy Stewart, Ellyn Weiss and Delna Dastur. The last of those contrasts gray spatters with hard-edge rectangular forms, akin to the ones in a much more colorful painting by Robert Cwiok. His “Corona Tree” can be seen as purely abstract, but the oblique bars that jut from the grid of squares represent the spread of the disease.

The tidiness of Cwiok’s composition is not characteristic of the show, but its repeated forms have an affinity to those in Michael Walton’s “Time Radiance” and Kate Fitzpatrick’s “A Kind of Palimpsest 10.” The first is a cyanotype in which craggy rings pulsate on a blue field; the second is a drawing whose dozens of barbed-wire-like black lines fade at the center to yield an almost-open white expanse. Both pictures are abstract yet tell a sort of story: of someone, perhaps secluded or maybe just intensely focused, who burrows into something, whether a physical object or the human psyche, to find transcendence at its core.

Moments in Time . . . A Very Weird Time Through Oct. 18 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria.

1460 Wallmountables

Every year since 1989, the District of Columbia Arts Center has rented almost 1,500 two-foot-square plots of display space to anyone who can pay the small fee. The result is “1460 Wallmountables,” in which artworks of wildly variable skill and inspiration jostle each other. This year’s selection is a strong one, with entries by several well-known local artists.

As space is limited, the pieces tend to be modest in size, and often in means as well. That’s not a problem for someone like Dan Steinhilber, who often repurposes throwaway items. His simple but vivid “Abacus on Ice” consists of black dots rendered in white foam, whose permeability causes the pigment to seep into interesting patterns. Equally crafty are Jessica Beels’s flock of birds, constructed from junk mail, playing cards and other scraps of random paper and perched on branches of braided metal wire.

Fine painting-drawings by Hedieh Ilchi, Maggie Michael and Pat Goslee (who is married to Washington Post journalist Michael O’Sullivan) are in familiar styles, if at reduced scale. Also smaller in size than impact is Kim Reyes’s set of six miniature torsos, three female and three male, made of pot-fired clay and endowed with winking details. Of Joanne Kent’s two visceral wall pieces, one is sleek and the other is covered with paint so thickly clotted that it becomes sculptural.

High-tech items include Chris Combs’s LED pieces, including one whose green lights swirl in response to visitors’ movements, and a Steve Wanna sculpture that freezes five needles in midair, compelled by a magnet. Nekisha Durrett, however, used only pencil to make the most timely piece: a stark portrait of Eleanor Bumpurs, an elderly Black woman killed by New York City police in 1984.

1460 Wallmountables 2020 Through Oct. 18 at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. By appointment only.

Tayo Kuku Jr.

The people in one of Tayo Kuku Jr.’s photographic installations at Mehari Sequar Gallery are engaged in a game of tug-of-war. Yet, as the piece’s title indicates, the 13 figures arrayed across 10 pictures are not in opposition. “E Pluribus Unum” depicts tuggers of various beliefs, heritages and statuses all pulling in the same direction. Rather than a rope, the cord they’re yanking is a rolled-up U.S. flag.

The show, “We Were Them That Dreamed,” by the Nigeria-born American commercial photographer, also offers a second multi-photo tableau. “Absorption” consists of three large images of athletic Black men and women, almost nude and nearly silhouetted, in front of a rainbow-striped fabric backdrop. These are visions of power and beauty.

“E Pluribus Unum” is more complicated, although not difficult to read. The photos are largely drained of color, but include a few hot-hued details, including a bag of Skittles that evokes Trayvon Martin’s killing. Three of the women have wounds, all illustrating authentic injuries to participants in recent civil rights protests. These bruised and bloody people, too, appear strong.

Both pieces feature augmented-reality animations visible through a tablet or mobile phone. But the show’s most potent 3-D effect is an actual object: the Stars and Stripes that’s the central prop in “E Pluribus Unum.” Kuku has mounted a length of the flag at the center of the installation, linking the players in his symbolic drama. The coiled cloth represents something to hold on to in weird times.

Tayo Kuku Jr.: We Were Them That Dreamed Through Oct. 10 at Mehari Sequar Gallery, 1402 H St. NE.

In postponing Guston exhibition, the National Gallery and three other museums have made a terrible mistake

When the Obamas danced to ‘At Last, America saw history. This artist saw intimacy.

The new Eisenhower Memorial is stunning, especially at night. But is this the last of the ‘great man’ memorials?