It was a big show when Apollo 11 lifted off a bit more than 50 years ago. But that’s not the spectacle David Burnett chronicled in the photographs now collected under the title “We Choose to Go to the Moon.” On display at the District’s Leica store are pictures that look at the spectators, not what they were looking at.
Then 22 and working for Time magazine, Burnett focused on 1960s American cars and beach culture — and counterculture — at NASA’s equivalent of Woodstock. He photographed such middle-American types as square dancers, a paperboy and a huckster selling dubiously authentic “moon maps.” But he also documented a guitar-strumming troubadour; a young couple with a transistor radio, their faces reflected in a rearview mirror; and a man with binoculars on the roof of a van embellished with the words of the Fugs, a hippie folk group. Both the kids and their elders appear to be in profound communion with their automobiles, whether lounging in a sedan’s trunk or sleeping partly beneath a VW bug.
Shot both after dark and under withering sun, Burnett’s color photos feature deep blacks and hot whites. In the exemplary shot, a few dozen space buffs are shielding their eyes with their hands as they gaze up into the bright July sky. The sight they seek is distant and receding. Burnett’s is right in front of his lens.
David Burnett: We Choose to Go to the Moon Through Feb. 2 at Leica, 977 F St. NW.
Some 30 friends and admirers contributed to “Lincoln Mudd: Student, Mentor, Colleague,” and their work makes up more than half of the tribute to the Montgomery College professor who died in 2018. Yet Mudd himself is clearly the star of the exhibition at the college’s King Street Gallery, which showcases the artist and teacher’s remarkable ability to conjure pliant forms in iron, bronze and aluminum.
Even when Mudd was making prints, another specialty, he was drawn to metal. One of his handsome woodcuts depicts a pileup of girders, suggesting a bridge in the process of either coming together or apart. His sculpture is less architectonic, even when it has such structural elements as the hexagonal boxes that punctuate three arcing strands in the show’s only example of Mudd’s working entirely in wood. The artist’s pieces often use cast metal to simulate fabric or even softer materials.
“Bayou Choo Choo” is a small, boxy vehicle dwarfed by a towering plume of smoke. The sinuous form of the abstract “Herding One Desert” is topped with strands of iron rope. Most evocative is “Night Hymn,” in which a cloak wraps the contours of a life-size body that’s almost entirely absent. Aside from the shape, the only evidence of human presence is a hand clutching the empty garment. As with that print’s enigmatically overlapping girders, the missing person could be arriving or departing.
This sense of fluidity echoes Mudd’s process. The artist made molds, but he didn’t use them to produce multiples of the same piece. Instead, he introduced variations into the casting process to yield one-of-a-kind sculptures. The knowledge that he did so gives added resonance to one of the tribute works, Pablo Callejo’s “Metal Pour With the Guys.” The etching doesn’t simply celebrate the fellowship of artists engaged in heavy physical work. It also shows a process that, for Mudd, was as much improvisational as mechanical.
Lincoln Mudd: Student, Mentor, Colleague Through Jan. 31 at King Street Gallery, Montgomery College, 930 King St., Silver Spring.
Suh & Graves
After sketching urban scenes in flurries of pencil and watercolor, Suh Yongsun carefully dates them. But what most strongly fixes the Korean artist’s vignettes in time and place is the found objects he incorporates. Most of the Suh pictures in MK Gallery’s “Midtown and Beyond” were made in New York and include bits of tickets, handbills and food packets. A few are rendered on paper bags. The things the artist saw, bought and ate are all part of the record.
Although based in Seoul, Suh spends part of each year in the United States; these pictures include depictions of Atlanta as well as New York. Wherever he goes, the artist records his surroundings in an expressionist style that stresses spontaneity and childlike directness. The show’s only portrait is of Tina Turner, painted in quick strokes of clashing orange and green on a Metropolitan Museum of Art brochure. Suh splashes impressions atop borrowed context.
Kathleen J Graves, the show’s other contributor, also freezes moments. But she stages the scenes she photographs in the two series represented here, “Nature and Culture” and “Dark Days.” The first includes close-ups of century-old domestic objects, notably ceramics, nestled amid outdoor plants. The man-made things are incongruous, yet feature decorative motifs drawn from nature. The items were crafted, the artist suggests, at a time when people were closer to the world around them.
That idea is pertinent to the second series, partly inspired by the rising sea levels that affect Graves’s Long Island workplace. These computer-modified pictures collage nature imagery with renderings of imaginary mini-robots that observe damage to the biosphere and devise strategies to repair it. Manipulated after rather than before the shutter clicks, the “Dark Days” photos offer ways to remake the planet with imagination rather than bulldozers.
Suh Yongsun & Kathleen J Graves: Midtown and Beyond Through Feb. 4 at MK Gallery, 1952 Gallows Rd., No. 202, Vienna.
Frank Van Riper
Last year, Frank Van Riper exhibited vintage black-and-white pictures of Paris and New York at Photoworks. Many of those images are now at Waverly Street Gallery, where the photographer (and former Washington Post columnist) is showing “A Tale of Four Cities.” The additional locales are Washington (Van Riper’s longtime home) and Venice. The added element is color.
As a veteran newspaper shooter, Van Riper developed a mastery of monochromatic images, although his blacks are too intense for newsprint. In Venice, he captured ebony skies mirrored by equally dark water punctuated by shimmering light. The color photos are mostly of the District and portray familiar places. But as he demonstrates with a deftly framed picture of the interior of the Pension Building (now housing the National Building Museum), seen through one of its distinctive stairways, Van Riper knows just where to stand.
Frank Van Riper: A Tale of Four Cities Through Feb. 8 at Waverly Street Gallery, 4600 East-West Hwy., Bethesda.