A sociological as well as a photographic undertaking, Janire Najera’s expedition from Santa Fe, N.M., to Los Angeles encompassed the familiar and the strange. Of course, the Bilbao, Spain-born Najera’s idea of strange may not be the average American’s. “Moving Forward, Looking Back: Journeys Across the Old Spanish Trail” includes images of big skies, red buttes and rusted-out trucks that are well made but far from revelatory. More interesting are the individual stories the photojournalist collected for the exhibition, at the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain, and the book that accompanies it.
Now living in Wales, Najera considers herself more European than Spanish and professes no interest in her genealogy. But in the American Southwest, she met people who treasure their links to Spain, mingled as they are with other European and indigenous American heritages. She made evocative portraits of those hyphenated Americans and recorded interviews with some (accessible via headphones or download).
It’s a multithemed chronicle, so Najera used diverse means to tell it. The show includes her diary entries, a photo collage of a historic mission and landscape photos. Enduring history and landscape are central to the project, but Najera also tries to convey the transience of being on the road. And what’s more American than that?
Janire Najera: Moving Forward, Looking Back: Journeys Across the Old Spanish Trail On view through June 28 at the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain, 2801 16th St. NW. 202-728-2334. www.spainculture.us.
The title of “Out of the Box,” Flora Kanter and Pam Frederick’s show at the Katzen Arts Center is not a boast but a pun: Underlying the pieces are cardboard boxes. Frederick turns squashed cartons into color-field canvases; each is painted with a block of a single pastel shade. Kanter playfully alludes to the containers’ original purpose in “Etagere”; its array of stacked boxes becomes a display case for paper vases that ape ceramic collectibles.
Generally, Kanter’s work is tidier and monochromatic and Frederick’s is more colorful and anarchic. But the two artists, both based in Washington, are as likely to intersect as diverge. Kanter’s style turns rougher in the black-and-white “Ocean Painting,” which somewhat resembles a seascape; Frederick comes close to Kanter’s more sculptural approach with “Demolition,” which resembles a metal gate. Shaped and painted, cardboard can imitate many other surfaces. But it’s not meant to endure, which gives “Out of the Box” its conceptual edge. Kanter and Frederick’s gestures will outlast their medium.
Out of the Box: Flora Kanter and Pam Frederick On view through June 24 at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. www.american.edu/cas/katzen.202-885-2787.
It’s easy to see the mixed-media paintings in Rush Baker’s “Under Pressure” as edifices of a sort. One ingredient is ceramic tile adhesive, sometimes arrayed in grids that suggest partially erected walls. But do the layered pictures at Honfleur Gallery represent building or deconstruction? Baker writes that his inspirations include urban decay and “the spectacle of war.” Perhaps such turmoil is visualized in “Untitled (Pressure Study),” whose cloud-like shapes in pink and gray evoke fire and battle. Working with acrylic, spray paint, resin and various building materials, Baker contrasts purpose and chaos, accomplishment and surrender. Yet most of the Maryland artist’s work seems not so much fierce as simply haunted.
Under Pressure: Recent Work by Rush Baker On view through June 26 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. www.honfleurgallery.com.
Although precisely hand-drawn dots on paper still feature in Amy Lin’s work, they’re partly hidden in the mixed-media pieces of “Dreamworlds” at Addison/Ripley. The breakthrough here is actually a cut-through: Most of the D.C. artist’s recent work proceeds on two or more levels, with dots and other forms visible only through circles or spirals incised in the top level of paper. This adds an element — shadow — to Lin’s standard repertoire of small shapes, larger patterns and expanses of white space. The titles of many of these pieces invoke constellations and other celestial systems, but the pictures also suggest aquatic or microscopic life. “Whispering” is a spine-like invention in red and orange, and the pieces that emphasize paper-carving resemble embroidery. There also are more robust arrangements, such as “Aurora,” with its black-shadowed wormholes and half-hidden red and green planets.
Dreamworlds: Amy Lin On view through June 27 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-338-5180. www.addisonripleyfineart.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.