It’s official: Dan Tague is the bill-fold guy. The New Orleans artist deftly pleats greenbacks, origami-style, to produce new national mottoes to supplement “In God We Trust.” Tague included such pieces in his 2011 show at Civilian Art Projects, and there are two more in his current exhibition there, “Independence in the Age of Decadence.” But his folding work reached a much larger audience recently when it was featured in the New Yorker’s money issue.
It might take Tague years to establish a reputation for doing anything other than photographs of bills twisted to yield such slogans as “Resistance is Futile” (seen in this show) or “Trust No One” (in the New Yorker). But that’s just a small part of what he does. Tague’s droll and sometimes provocative Civilian show features a chandelier that incorporates a decommissioned World War II-era bomb, a collection of molotov cocktails using Simpsons and SpongeBob SquarePants vessels and a partially burned piece that features a lyric from the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” (Both the song and the line are among the band’s most famous.) The artist also expands his greenback repertoire by incorporating the heads of Washington and Lincoln, as engraved for the currency, into photo collages. Think talk is cheap? A copy of “We Know What’s Best for You,” a one-hour sound piece that’s installed in the gallery’s bathroom, can be had for only 20 bucks.
Tague’s previous Civilian show included several works inspired by environmental disasters in New Orleans and the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps because it’s election season, this show focuses more on national affairs. But there are a few D.C. references. A stars-and-stripes banner made from punk-rock T-shirts includes one featuring Minor Threat, the 1980s hard-core band whose music became one of the city’s major cultural exports. A mock advertisement, “Corporate Reality,” offers three downtown landmarks for sale: the Washington Monument, the White House and — the only one of the trio that might actually go on the block — the Corcoran Gallery of Art. For Tague, following the money involves more than maxims and iconography. He’s interested in nothing less than the influence of political and financial power.
Also at Civilian is “Found Images,” a selection of Frank DiPerna’s photographs of man-made pictures in the real world. These range from graffiti and painted backdrops to advertising in its myriad forms. Made in Italy and Mexico and on the American East Coast, the photos are skillfully composed to contrast their flat and 3-D elements. The local artist and Corcoran professor often captures artworks and posters behind some sort of obstacle, such as the portable barricade he found in front of a reproduction of a Renaissance painting in Florence. The foreground object can be as apt as the real foliage growing in front of a nature-scene mural, or as simple as a small handmade ad for apartments, pasted over the crotch of the model in an Italian lingerie billboard. If such juxtapositions make you look twice, that’s probably what DiPerna has in mind — and not just when gazing at his photos.
Kyoichi Tsuzuki’s 1999 photo book, “Tokyo: A Certain Style,” surprised some Western admirers of Japan’s supposedly spare aesthetic. It showed tiny, jampacked living spaces that looked more like storage lockers than apartments. Five years later, Satomi Shirai moved from Tokyo to New York and brought that certain style with her. The large-format photographs in her “Home & Home,” at Heiner Contemporary, depict a Queens apartment bursting with domestic stuff: food, dishes, clothing, cleaning products, newspapers in multiple languages and, of course, an automatic rice cooker. Shirai doesn’t appear in most of the images, and when she does, her face is partially obscured. But these are self-portraits.
The selection also includes a few shots of Japanese dollhouse interiors; a cherry-blossom viewing scene in Central Park; and a looking-out-the-window shot of an American’s rustic Japanese dwelling, cluttered with empty bottles, whose vista is of nearby Mount Fuji. Shirai positions her camera impeccably in tight quarters, and — because she uses a 10-second timer — must move quickly to get into the frame when she’s part of the picture. In “Cleaning,” the artist teeters on the kitchen counter, wearing a gray T-shirt and lacy black underpants; the playful eroticism is almost upstaged by the sheer implausibility of Shirai’s having leapt into that place before the shutter snapped. Some of the images are posed more formally than others, but all reflect the self-consciousness of someone whose sense of home will always be divided.
The wild and the man-made coexist — digitally — in Karen Knorr’s recent photographs. The London-based American artist makes glowing, long-exposure images of the interiors of grand Indian buildings, then inserts her photographs of animals — mostly birds, monkeys and great cats. The result is the “India Song” series, titled after the Marguerite Duras novel and currently on display at Adamson Gallery.
The two components are assembled artfully, with painstaking attention to scale, shadows and reflections. And yet they don’t always persuade, especially when Knorr clusters several species together. “Conqueror of the World, Podar Haveli, Nawalgarh” places a baby elephant, with a monkey sitting on its back, in the center of an ornate chamber. The picture is seamless, yet still seems Photoshopped.
It’s hard to compete with a tiger, but in “The Survivors, Deogarh Palace, Deogarh” the regal cat is upstaged by the sheer luminosity of the scene, which is illuminated partially by stained-glass windows. Indeed, the architecture in these photos is so opulent, and so beautifully rendered, that at first the animals don’t seem entirely necessary.
A second glance, however, reveals that the buildings’s decorative details are mostly drawn from nature. Even the Islamic structures, for which portrayals of people and animals are forbidden, include vine and flower motifs among the geometric patterns. Images of trees and tigers adorn many of these structures, which range from the palatial Taj Mahal to the modest Paradesi Synagogue. By interjecting animals into these sites, Knorr reveals that they were always there.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through Oct. 20 at Civilian Art Projects, 1019 Seventh St. NW; 202-607-3804; www.civilianartprojects.com.
on view through Oct. 27 at Heiner Contemporary, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-338-0072; www.heinercontemporary.com.
on view through Oct. 27 at Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-232-0707; www.adamsongallery.com.