By most accounts, except his own, President Trump hasn’t started to build his “big, beautiful wall” on the southern U.S. border. Meanwhile, the Otis Street Art Project, concerned about the border wall debate, has already erected a cardboard wall and is about to demolish it — or already has, depending on when you read this.
From 7 to 10 p.m. on March 9, the public is invited to join the “Wall” artists to listen to versions of songs from a certain Pink Floyd album and then attack the cardboard structure with hatchets made by its builder, Glenn Richardson. In homage to Mexico’s piñatas, the edifice is filled, partly, with candy. Also inside, according to curator Molly Ruppert, are images of children in cages and a list of endeavors that some consider better uses of federal revenue than the proposed barricade.
Richardson’s towering, snaking construction is the largest object in “Wall.” But the barrier — made of packing boxes, brown paper and consumer gift cards — is not the most formidable. Jacqui Crocetta contributed a cairn of carefully stacked wall pavers, encircled by decorated stones and set below a hanging cluster of black-painted roots and driftwood. The juxtaposition represents immigrants’ hard labor, challenges and sense of community.
Nearby, Gregg Hannan’s imposing “Montello Gang” combines painting and sculpture to erect a surface of thin bricks at the center of a canvas, bordered by scrawled text. The subject of Hannan’s assemblage is the scourge of the District’s 1980s drug-dealing crews, which indicates that the piece wasn’t conceived for this show.
Neither was Yar Koporulin’s untitled diptych, another striking fusion of sculpture and painting. At each end, the artwork is flat, rectangular and painted an evenly applied red. But at its split center, the piece erupts into black 3-D globs that resemble cooled volcanic magma. Nor was Paul Hrusa’s painting, in which a broken section of bulwark protrudes to block a corner of the image; or Ellyn Weiss’s two encaustics that resemble bits of battered building facades.
Among the works produced specifically for “Wall” is Erwin Timmers’s sculpture, in which a mound, made of green glass but suggestive of flesh, pushes through a bricklike pattern. Less sturdy, yet still solid, are three sheer curtains that Claudia Vess has embellished with building specifications for Trump’s touted fortification. Reduced to such technical data, the wall appears to be more of a concept than a physical object. But perhaps even its champions also actually see it that way.
Wall Through March 23 at Otis Street Arts Project, 3706 Otis St., Mount Rainier. Free tickets are required to the wall demolition. Visit eventbrite.com/e/osap-wall-smashing-celebration-tickets-57932930956.
Video and projection artist Robin Bell has built a wall of his own at GW Corcoran School of the Arts and Design and dubbed it “The Swamp.” The structure is actually five closely spaced pillars made of discarded exhibition pedestals that Bell has, to use his term, “upcycled.” On the stacked white cubes he projects various faces, mostly of politicians but also a few prominent billionaires (including Jeffrey P. Bezos, who owns The Washington Post). The images connote power, yet sometimes fracture helplessly into shards of pixels.
“The Swamp” is the centerpiece of Bell’s show, “Open.” The video montage runs 8½ minutes when unmanipulated, but the artist is frequently on site, altering the mix with live footage. While former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was testifying before Congress, Bell was busy feeding his comments into “The Swamp.”
Since Bell works mostly with light and video, his art is ever-changing. His current political campaign began with accusatory phrases projected briefly on the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, their effect magnified by extensive media coverage. Bell’s show at the GW Corcoran is more static, yet still mutable. At each end of the building’s atrium, a video monitor is flanked by horizontal light bars that flash in shifting patterns of red, white and blue. The monitors and lights are fixed in place, but the text on the monitors can and does shift. One day last week, Cohen’s damning words were prominently featured.
Like other forms of street art, projected slogans lose some of their urgency when sequestered inside a museum. But “Open” functions as a laboratory where Bell can try out new gear, such as the laser he’s using to electronically spray-paint communiques on the railings around the atrium’s second level. One of the projected messages is “History Happened Today.” As it does, Bell is jotting it down in media as fleeting as the home page on a digital newspaper.
Robin Bell: Open Through March 31 at GW Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, 500 17th St. NW.
The painting-sculptures by Jason Gubbiotti at Civilian Art Projects at Studio 1469 couldn’t be mistaken for art made in the 1960s. Yet the show’s title, “Things Are as They Seem,” echoes the credos of that era’s “post-painterly” abstractionists. And Gubbiotti’s semi-symmetrical geometric forms recall the work of Frank Stella, who turned from black to color around 1960. But where Stella used a protractor to define the curves of his compositions, Gubbiotti seems to look to video games and other computer graphics in devising his hard-edge, multifaceted pictures.
Like Stella, Gubbiotti has followed his fascination with shapes and patterns right off the rectangular picture plane. Many of the works by the D.C.-educated, France-based artist are shaped wooden panels in which notches complement the painted forms and slits offer a view under the surface. One piece, “The Science of Swearing,” is a narrow horizontal slice of a picture, mounted to protrude from the wall so it resembles a nonfunctional handrail.
Gubbiotti is also exhibiting 30 detailed abstract drawings, meticulously assembled from tiny overlapping squares rendered in a handful of colors. Methodical yet individual, they suggest both architectural plans and Tibetan mandalas.
The show’s most radical works are the ones that don’t quite fit on either the wall or the floor. “Fighting in the Age of Loneliness” is a rubber mat, painted mostly a sod-like green and partly flopped against the wall; “CROP,” made of pieces cut from another painting, looks like a book that’s waiting to be reshelved. These things may someday become what they are, but for the time being they appear undecided.
Jason Gubbiotti: Things Are as They Seem Through March 23 at Civilian Art Projects at Studio 1469, 1469 Harvard St. NW, rear.