Of all the words in the title “The Temporary Art Repair Shop,” only one is inarguable. Swedish-born artist Tobias Sternberg will be packing up soon, returning his tools — they came from art professor Andy Holtin at American University, which underwrote Sternberg’s stint in Washington — and going back home to Berlin. Transformer, which has hosted the artist since early October, will no longer look like a repair shop.
That takes care of “temporary.” As for “repair,” Sternberg receives objects that are broken or in some way unsatisfactory and transforms them; he does not render them capable of performing their previous function. And “art”? Well, the visiting sculptor/conceptualist prefers not to offer a definitive answer. He remakes people’s useless stuff, free, and returns it so they can ponder its possible usefulness. “You wait for them to ask the questions, rather than telling them,” he says.
One recent afternoon at the shop, Sternberg displayed a busted half of a theater-light lens to which he had added a wooden frame and two earpieces, yielding an eyeglass for a Cyclops. He admired the lens’s jagged edge: “With broken things, you often get these amazing surfaces.” Sternberg and his student assistants also had transformed a toy crocodile into an adult plaything, with a bottle opener at one end and a cigarette lighter at the other. Blinking lights from another toy had been transplanted into a model of the Pentagon bought at a dollar store.
Sternberg, who set up temporarily in Belfast and Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2013, acknowledges that the shop is part theater. The counter, the tools, the repairman’s white jacket — even the carbon-paper forms filled out by the nonpaying customers — evoke an age when the most popular items weren’t electronic or manufactured thousands of miles away. Although the vibe is homey, the resulting mash-ups are more in the tradition of Dada and surrealism than high school wood shop.
The repairman is still accepting items — “I’ll take anything that isn’t illegal, alive or food,” he says — but will start returning the transfigured objects Oct. 29. He doesn’t guarantee completion or satisfaction. That makes Sternberg’s part-time gig sound a lot like art.
Tobias Sternberg: The Temporary Art Repair Shop On view through Oct. 31 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102. www.transformerdc.org.
Landscape architecture is Scott Hazard’s day job, but viewers of “Memory Gardens” might guess that he is a poet or a Buddhist monk. Hazard’s wall sculptures, on display at Adah Rose Gallery, are 3-D dioramas of torn or cut white paper inside austere wooden frames. Words or phrases, written or stamped on the paper in black ink, comment on the vignettes but also serve as visual elements. “Read This Line,” for example, features a cave constructed from layers of paper; its printed text leads the eye into the grotto’s recesses.
The North Carolina artist has called his work “crafted meditative space,” and his “Heavy Rocks” resembles a stone-and-gravel Zen garden.
The rounded forms — almost black from repeated imprints of the words “heavy rocks” — also could depict boulders in a field of snow or mountaintops jutting above thick mist. Yet Hazard’s rocks protrude from the bottom of the piece as well as the top, reminding us that they’re paper and not heavy at all.
Another example of visual wordplay is “Catch and Release,” which hangs perpendicular to the wall when released, but can be folded up so as to be “caught.” Made of blond wood, white paper and black words, Hazard’s constructions are minimal enough to be meditative, but they are as playful as they are pensive.
Scott Hazard: Memory Gardens On view through Oct. 31 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington. 301-922-0162. www.adahrosegallery.com.
Every year, Hamiltonian Gallery awards fellowships to emerging artists and introduces their work in a show titled “new. now.” The 2015 edition is a strong one, if not altogether new. Nara Park, who stacks stone-patterned empty boxes in assemblages that appear much heavier than they are, has shown her work around town before. So has sculptor Rob Hackett, although his black-painted, plywood-and-steel “Archway” is snakier and leaner than the suspended wooden beam pieces seen previously.
The remaining fellows are Christie Neptune, whose videos and photography ponder identity and self-determination; Jim Leach, whose sculptures rely on found objects and texts, and Kyle Tata, whose prints echo mid-20th-century abstraction. Neptune’s five-minute “Untitled #70” combines wispy contemporary imagery with sententious audio (likely from the 1950s or ’60s) about “growing up.” Leach’s assemblages include an off-kilter ladder, a cast horse’s head and references to Diogenes and Duchamp. Most visually alluring are Tata’s cyanotypes on canvas, whose technique suggests pop art but whose results are closer to color-field painting.
new. now. On view through Oct. 31 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, Suite 101. 202-332-1116. www.hamiltoniangallery.com.
The show now at the Watergate Gallery was conceived as a selection of William D’Italia’s recent D.C. streetscapes. Then came word that the painter, who lived just a few blocks from the gallery, had died unexpectedly. So the exhibition was recast as “A Tribute to William D’Italia, 1951-2015.” Included are nearly two dozen recent canvases, some not quite finished, and works from five previous shows dating to 1999.
The artist was a traditionalist in both style and subject. Drawn to red-brick and brownstone buildings, D’Italia painted views of the “new downtown” that somehow elided the newer buildings. A former Smithsonian employee, D’Italia used to haul his gear to towers and roofs, off-limits to the public, to achieve dramatic perspectives on the Mall. But he preferred everyday buildings to the city’s most-pictured landmarks, painting gardens, pump houses and food trucks as well as monuments. After a back injury, D’Italia did a suite of still lifes of things in his apartment. These pictures, like his landscapes, are notable for whimsy and warmth. Rather than trumpet the unexpected, D’Italia preferred to offer the gentle pleasure of recognition.
A Tribute to William D’Italia On view through Oct. 31 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW. 202-338-4488. www.watergategalleryframedesign.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.