Mark Kelner was born in the United States, but just barely; the D.C. artist’s mother was pregnant when his parents fled the Soviet Union. He grew up in Montgomery County, pondering what he calls his “Russian American duality,” one of the subjects of his show at Culture House DC. “Solaris: Shelter for the Next Cold War” takes its title from Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 science-fiction novel (adapted into a 1972 film by Andrei Tarkovsky). Other inspirations include American advertising, Soviet propaganda, bad translations and Suprematism, an art movement that began just before the Russian Revolution.
Visitors enter through Kelner’s “Acting Russian Hall of Fame,” which includes photos of Julie Christie, Sean Connery, Keri Russell and others in Slavic roles. It’s a characteristically playful introduction to the artist’s work, which draws heavily on his childhood pop-culture obsessions. Skateboards hang near banners on which the Ten Commandments have been lettered in 10 languages, as poorly rendered by Google Translate.
Highlighting the interaction of design and content, Kelner often removes elements from familiar images. Stripped of their words, corporate logos become color-field paintings. Washington Color School canvases are reduced to Russian-icon size and daubed in black and white, recalling 1980s D.C. punk-rock graphics.
One gallery is devoted to a project also called “Solaris”: Versions of propaganda posters in which the likes of Lenin were framed by rays of sunlight, as if the great leader were the center of the solar system. In Kelner’s versions, the figures are absent, leaving only the rays.
The most recent project is a scroll of the 176 pages of Robert S. Mueller III’s report that were partly redacted. Kelner removed the text and reproduced only the black rectangles, leaving a politically charged homage to Supremacist Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square” paintings.
Originally inspired by the artifact-heavy bathroom in Kelner’s studio, “Solaris” was curated with the assistance of Zachary Paul Levine. The artist credits Levine with discerning links between works in many media and sparked by such diverse interests as art history, the space race and ice hockey. In trying to find his place between Washington and Moscow, Kelner has traveled many intriguing paths.
Mark Kelner: Solaris: Shelter for the Next Cold War Through July 7 at Culture House DC, 700 Delaware Ave. SW.
Some geopolitical boundaries are internal and subjective; others are all too real. One of the latter separates the twinned towns of Derby Line, Vt., and Stanstead, Quebec. The border runs through the local library, which has become a meeting place for people affected by the U.S. travel ban. Visitors from certain lands who aren’t allowed into this country can meet relatives whose visas don’t permit them to leave and return.
The situation inspired artist Heather Theresa Clark, in collaboration with choreographer Pauline Jennings, to make “Neighboring Towns,” at Hamiltonian Gallery. The work is four videos, each on a giant screen in its own alcove. Three vignettes show aspects of local life, including a performance by a group of sacred harp shape-note singers, who have revived an 18th-century choral tradition.
The main video is a slowly revolving view of the library’s interior, accompanied by the voice-over narration of an anonymous man. He’s an Iranian native who lives in Canada, which his parents visited. Together, they went to the bisected library to meet his sister, who lives in the United States.
Clark, a former resident of Loudoun County, Va., often focuses on rural areas, although her concerns are usually ecological. Here she contrasts small-town existence with large, intangible forces. In a place where neighbors gather to sing in harmony, other people are separated for reasons that appear to have nothing to do with their lives.
Heather Theresa Clark + Pauline Jennings: Neighboring Towns Through June 22 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW.
There are several self-portraits in Sidney Lawrence’s “Retro/Recent,” but the D.C. artist really manifests himself through his subjects. He loves cities and buildings yet rarely depicts them literally. In the drawings and 3-D paintings at the University of California Washington Center, Lawrence claims impossible vantage points, exaggerates the scale of certain landmarks and collapses multiple locales into one. Sometimes he also engages in a sort of visual architecture criticism.
A California native, Lawrence arrived in Washington in 1974 and worked at the Hirshhorn Museum for almost 30 years. In 1985, he drew “Hirshhorn Museum in 1998,” which imagines the Brutalist doughnut with its facade partly stripped away and supplemented by two postmodernist gestures: classical columns and the massive letters “HSMG” added on top. These changes weren’t made, of course, but similar gambits were used elsewhere in the city’s monumental core.
Another architectural mash-up is subtler. “Cathedral Reach” depicts the facade of a towering Gothic-style church onto which he’s inserted symbols of many religions. Lawrence has dramatically elongated the image, but the temple he pictures doesn’t reach toward any particular god.
Sidney Lawrence: Retro/Recent Through June 23 at the University of California Washington Center, 1608 Rhode Island Ave. NW.
The principal ingredients in Portico Gallery’s “Assemblages” are fabrics, but some of the most interesting touches are metallic. The six artists, all older African Americans from Washington or New York, use traditional quilting and felting techniques, but also incorporate funky found objects.
One of Francine Haskins’s pieces includes some of the things used to make cloth items, such as spools, buttons, a tape measure and two pairs of scissors. Her “Bob Marley and the Guardians” is festooned with seven heads painted on crushed drink cans. Jeri Hubbard’s “Geared Up” is a fetish-like black doll, covered with small metal gears and with a circular-saw blade behind its head like a halo.
The only assemblages that aren’t at least partly fabric are two small structures constructed from metal, wood and glass by IBe’ Crawley. Her “Grace Church” is made of materials whose surfaces have been battered to yield rich, varied patinas. The model structure is evocative of the rural South, but also simply beautiful as an object.
Assemblages Through June 22 at Portico Gallery, 3807 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood, Md.