Immaculate contemporary photographs with a classical vibe, Agniet Snoep’s still lifes have been among the big hits of the (e)merge art fair, where they’ve been exhibited by Amsterdam’s Amstel Gallery. Now Connersmith, (e)merge’s founder, is presenting the Dutch artist’s first U.S. solo show, “Alive and Present.” These elegant pictures pose fruit, flowers and small animals in compositions modeled on Dutch Golden Age paintings.
Positioned before black backdrops and dramatically lighted, the photos show a respect for nature but also a sense of mastery over it worthy of the Enlightenment’s intellectual confidence. Generally, three items of similar or complementary colors are posed together. In “Still Life Series: Lime,” a green beetle is wrapped inside the fruit’s coiled peel. “Raspberry” places a red bloom and an orange bug between two berries. When the artist pairs a beetle with a cauliflower, both are vividly green, and the vegetable’s fractal-like patterns highlight the image’s modernity.
The link between these photographs and 17th-century Dutch painting is specific. Snoep is descended from Ambrosius Bosschaert, whose circa-1630 canvas, “Dead Frog with Flies,” she remade as a photo. Both are examples of the memento mori, a reminder of death’s inevitability. These works point out that even the woman who made these supremely controlled images will someday die, turning cold and dry like that papery-skinned frog.
The gallery is also showing portraits by Katie Miller, another contemporary artist who gives classical painting an up-to-date twist. “Enduring” offers 10 pictures of children, rendered with exceptional detail and precision. (Much as Snoep’s photographs resemble paintings, Miller’s paintings could be mistaken for photos.) The Baltimore County artist distinguishes herself from her forebears by using bright colors and blank, single-hue backgrounds, and by depicting kids with such props as squirt guns and toy sharks.
Miller’s “Youth in a Party Hat” sports a mouth stained with blue food coloring; “A Girl with Bright Colored Hair” has tresses of red, green and blue, partly hidden by a mop of lighter blue cotton candy. Some of the children seem to float in space, while “Young Girl with a Dead Phone” is so naturalistic it could be a family snapshot. The toddler in that last picture appears intent, and none of the kids is smiling. They may just be wary, but perhaps they understand the high seriousness of the artistic tradition they’ve just joined.
Agniet Snoep: Alive and Present; Katie Miller: Enduring On view through May 31 at Connersmith, 1358 Florida Ave NE; 202-588-8750, connersmith.us.com
Where have all the flowers gone? Local artists are still observing the world around them, but are more likely to depict aspects of it that were once studiously ignored. Chris Chernow’s “Reconstructing Nature” employs both found and synthetic materials to portray an organic world in disarray and decline. At her Studio Gallery show, Chernow has arranged dozens of white stoneware fragments on a gray linen cloth; the installation, “Nature’s Bones,” includes pieces that resemble leaves, seed pods and scraps of bark, recognizable and yet denatured.
If that piece feels a little grim, others are more playful. Chernow constructs honeycomb-like wall sculptures from wood, metal and ceramic, with globs of Gorilla Glue to suggest honey. Repurposing some of the most common contemporary items, the artist assembled a bank of plastic water bottles onto which she projects video of rushing streams and other swells and gushes. (She sandblasted the backs of the bottles to make them more reflective.) Turning plastic bottles into a projection screen is a more agreeable use than simply dumping them into a landfill, which is where most of them end their brief life-cycle. The juxtaposition also makes the show’s most pungent comment on the disconnect between natural cycles and manufactured dead ends.
Chris Chernow: Reconstructing Nature On view through May 24 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St NW; 202-232-8734; studiogallerydc.com
Many of the pictures in Martin Kotler’s “Cityscapes” gaze down at Washington, but not from Olympian heights. The longtime painter’s favorite vantage points include the bluff above Uniontown, Cardozo High School’s hilltop perch and an upstairs window that’s probably in his home. The artist depicts everyday aspects of the city where he has worked for more than three decades, so more dramatic angles would be unseemly.
Yet Kotler’s canvases aren’t simply snapshots rendered in oil paints. They’re thoughtful and carefully composed, shaped by influences from both classical and modern art. A series of winter scenes from a block of exemplary D.C. rowhouses includes several titled “Hunters in the Snow,” after a Pieter Brueghel picture that’s a Kotler favorite. In paintings of the catenary wires and structures along the tracks near Union Station, the industrial landscape is rendered realistically, but the vertical towers and flat planes of color hint at abstraction. Such images are recognizably Washington, and also are specifically and inarguably Kotler’s.
Martin Kotler: Cityscapes On view through May 23 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-234-5601; hemphillfinearts.com
Although she has lived most of her life elsewhere, Mary Boochever is a D.C. native, and the Washington Color School seems to be her artistic home soil. Much of her artwork in “Crocus Solis,” at Alex Gallery, recalls the hard-edged color-field style of Kenneth Noland and Anne Truitt, while a few suggest Leon Berkowitz’s softer, glimmering take on that style.
Yet this selection, which covers several decades of Boochever’s output, doesn’t simply reiterate Color School strategies. There are sculptures, inkjet prints and representational works, as well as oval paintings that possess a Berkowitz-like luminescence, but entirely in shades of gray. Boochever, now based on Long Island, also uses shaped canvases, and sometimes deploys color in symbolic ways: Several of her pictures depict the major substances in the human body, dominated by large areas of light blue (for water). One of these biochemical pieces is essentially a pie chart, but others array the hues neatly in squares and triangles. Boochever may not be an innovator, but as her argyle-pattern canvases and ladder-like painting-sculptures also demonstrate, she has a strong sense of design.
Mary Boochever: Crocus Solis On view through May 31
at Alex Gallery, 2106 R St. NW;
Mark Jenkins is a freelance writer.