In 1964, Terry Riley premiered “In C,” the fountainhead of the style that became known as minimalism. It consisted of 53 musical phrases that performers could choose to play, with some restrictions, as they wished. One reason the results are not cacophonous is that C major has no sharps and no flats.
“In C” is among the essential precursors of “No Sharps No Flats,” an interactive sound-art installation at Transformer. Twenty-four local musicians — mostly from punk, jazz and experimental backgrounds — provided short, single-instrument compositions on cassette tapes. The contributors include Ex Hex’s Mary Timony, Paperhaus’s Alex Tebeleff and eclectic guitarist Anthony Pirog, who led a performance of Riley’s landmark piece during the 2011 Sonic Circuits fest.
The cassettes loop on ramshackle players made from deconstructed boomboxes by D.C. artists Alex Braden, Emily Francisco and Adam Richard Nelson Hughes. The riffs can be played individually or — theoretically — all at once. The full 24-track experience is purely hypothetical because the devices are designed to fail, tangling the tapes beyond repair. Shortly after the show opened, one cassette was already wrecked.
This expected failure may be a commentary on one of today’s silliest pop-culture trends — the revival of prerecorded music cassettes. But the overall project also recalls such mid-20th-century provocations as Swiss artist Jean Tinguely’s auto-destructive machines and the accidental sound collages that John Cage elicited from radios and record players. A lot of territory is left to be explored in what Cage called “imaginary landscapes.”
“No Sharps No Flats” isn’t exactly nostalgic, but it does reject contemporary standards of iGizmo coolness. The sound isn’t digital, and the mechanism isn’t cloistered inside a sleek, blank rectangle. By the time the show closes, the installation probably will be a mess. But it will leave behind a sense of possibility that Apple and Samsung just can’t manufacture.
No Sharps No Flats On view through April 30 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102. transformerdc.org.
Because Long View Gallery shows its featured artists regularly, their evolving styles are easily charted. Surprises are still possible, however, as Ryan McCoy’s current exhibition demonstrates. The D.C. painter is known for blending ash, powder and pine needles into rough-surfaced black-and-white abstractions. McCoy’s new work adds red (and, in a single picture, deep blue) to his palette, but that’s not the big change. What’s really different is that the artist has discovered geometry.
McCoy now paints hard-edged abstractions, generally featuring blocks of a single color; these are punctuated with lines, notches and other small, orderly intrusions in contrasting hues. The results suggest both De Stijl, the Dutch reductionist-art movement whose founders included Mondrian, and Frank Stella’s minimalist black paintings.
Yet if McCoy has swept the pine needles out of his studio, he hasn’t abandoned texture. The pictures’ large color fields employ Roll-a-Tex, a paint additive that yields a stucco-like finish. Close inspection also reveals drips, softer borders, charcoal lines and areas of exposed canvas. McCoy may rely on a ruler these days, but he still trusts his intuition.
Ryan McCoy: Paintings On view through April 24 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-4788. longviewgallery.com.
The lobby at 1111 Pennsylvania has relatively little wall space, which is one reason that the shows Zenith Gallery stages there emphasize sculpture. The current “Full Circle” includes four works by fiber artist Carol Schepps and nearly two dozen by wood sculptor Len Harris. But it is Schepps who specializes in circles, arraying them colorfully in rows whose stated inspirations include the sun and agate, the translucent stone that often contains eye-like patterns. The artist’s contrast of bright, clean colors and darker, heathered ones draws from abstract painting as much as textile design.
There are myriad curves in Harris’s work, but no circles. He bends thin strips of wood into arrangements that suggest waves, helixes, musical notation and basket-weaving gone wild. The sculptor is a former aerospace engineer, and some of his forms look as though they were developed with the help of a wind tunnel. But Harris also streamlines nature, whether in the plant-like “Agave Americana” or several bird-titled pieces that simplify avian archetypes into flocks of wooden arcs. Other sculptures express abstract ideas or ineffable moods, but they all twirl through space with a lighter-than-air quality.
Full Circle On view through May 14 at 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-783-2963. zenithgallery.com.
Although developed as a martial art, tai chi stresses softness, and it developed into a slo-mo exercise style. Its stylized movements and meditative aspects inspired the mixed-media paintings of Eleanor Kotlarik Wang’s show at Studio Gallery, “In the Flow.”
The local artist layers black (and occasionally white) swoops over mottled grounds that are predominantly (but not exclusively) brown or gray. If the sinuous lines represent human movement, the colors suggest earth and clay, and thus ceramics, arguably the earliest art of ancient China. Two pictures made on paper and then mounted on canvas resemble Asian scroll paintings. They’re another reminder of the venerable traditions behind tai chi’s contemporary popularity.
Eleanor Kotlarik Wang: In the Flow On view through April 23 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. studiogallerydc.com.
On first introduction, Patrice Huguier seems a modest fellow. The still lifes in “Small Works From Paris” at Gallery A are tiny and generally in grayish winter tones. The French artist’s post-post-Impressionist style suggests Matisse, but a Matisse who’s too restrained for bright hues. Huguier mixes pigment and papier-mâché to build raised images, elevating texture over color. Flowers and vases are recurring subjects, yet green is rare and red rarer.
In fact, Huguier often works at a larger scale, although none of those pictures are here. But there is a hint of a bolder artist in one painting that’s among the most abstract: Two cylindrical shapes, one horizontal and the other vertical, are rendered in black on a crimson field. It’s no sunnier than the other little vignettes, but much more vivid.
Patrice Huguier: Small Works From Paris On view through April 30 at Gallery A, 2106 R St. NW. 202-667-2599. alexgalleries.com.