Adrienne Gaither's abstract color paintings are meticulously constructed, their bright hues divided by straight, hard-edge lines. Yet there's a sense of disorder and even menace in some of them, which is reflected in the title of the D.C. artist's Transformer show: "How I Got Over."
The tension between neat patterns and haphazard disruptions reveals "Gaither's personal recovery from traumatic events in her life," a gallery note explains. The upsets aren't specified directly, and the titles of the six large canvasses offer few clues. The picture that aims the sharpest point of a neon-orange triangle toward the bottom left of a field of shards is named "Not Just Knee Deep," probably after the Funkadelic song. Other titles are more commonplace, although one small collage is dubbed "Tribulation."
That color-field painting could be narrative, or at least psychological, would once have been heretical. In the 1960s, theorists of the genre insisted that the only proper concerns of such "post-painterly" art were its own forms and materials. Gaither has flouted such dogma previously with color-block grids of hues derived from skin tones. In this show's "Kill Shots," she flirts with representation by jagging a yellow spike across the canvas, suggesting lightning or some other sudden, violent blast.
Despite such dynamic gestures, Gaither's work shares much with mid-20th-century color painting. The artist has a knack for composition and keeps things interesting by juxtaposing both contrary and complementary hues. Yellows and maroons energize one picture, but so do its abutting areas of two slightly different shades of deep blue. These pictures may have been born out of upheaval, but they're immaculately controlled.
Adrienne Gaither: How I Got Over Through Feb. 24 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102. transformerdc.org.
How can you be in two eras at once? Sally Canzoneri simulates time travel with lenticular photographs — matched images of the same place, made years apart and cut into an accordion-fold pattern. From the front, strips of both scenes are visible; from the sides, only one can be seen. That's why the artist calls her Art League Gallery show "Double Takes."
Canzoneri lives in Washington, and most of her two-timing pictures show D.C. sites, decades or more apart. Here, she has included two Alexandria doublings, including one that contrasts the show's venue, the Torpedo Factory, in 1921 and 2017. The largest gap, chronologically if not thematically, is between the former slave traders' building at 1315 Duke St. in 1861 and 2017.
The older of those pictures is by Mathew Brady, the D.C. Civil War photographer. Most often, though, the earlier image's maker cannot be identified. Canzoneri works with unknown predecessors, first by framing her shot of the scene in imitation of the original, and then by fusing the two. Think of this not as appropriation, but collaboration. Canzoneri's lenticulars are made of paper rather than marble, but they're a kind of civic art.
Sally Canzoneri: Double Takes Through Feb. 5 at the Art League Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. 703-683-1780. theartleague.org.
At the National Gallery of Art currently stand a grove of columns, sleek and pure, by the late D.C. artist Anne Truitt. Anika Cartterfield also makes columns, but they're not so pristine. The most vivid piece in "The Wild," her show at VisArts Common Ground Gallery, slams a tree's root ball through a hollow pillar. The ragged end that erupts from one side is painted white to match the surface it breaches; the other end is smoother and varnished like a piece of furniture.
Cartterfield, who lives in Upstate New York, formerly worked for Vermont's forest service. When working with wood, she's concerned more with the quality of the raw material than with what it might be made into. She subverts the look of white-walled art spaces and neatly sanded sculptures with pieces that are unfinished and partly open to reveal their structure. This show's tidiest pieces are three columns topped with photos of art installations in forests. The woods, it appears, are Cartterfield's favorite gallery.
Downstairs at VisArts, Gibbs Street Gallery has become a listening room for Alex Braden's electronic music. The D.C. composer's "A Lesser Light" is an "automated improvisation" that randomly emits bits of music in a theoretically infinite arrangement. The sounds include drones, whooshes and clipped notes; they recall Balinese gamelan and the music of Steve Reich and Brian Eno.
In previous installations, Braden has employed near-obsolete and sometimes unreliable technology, including rotary telephones and cassette players. But this piece's physical presence consists only of the speakers that broadcast the eight different audio channels. The result is a room and a composition that are clean and clear, with just enough capriciousness to keep listeners looking over their shoulders.
Anika Cartterfield: The Wild and Alex Braden: A Lesser Light Through Feb. 11 at VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.
In the epilogue to "Invisible Man," author Ralph Ellison refers to aspects of African American history as "Old Bad Air." Antonio McAfee borrows that phrase for the title of his Hamiltonian Gallery show of manipulated vintage photos. The Baltimore artist distorts 19th-century portraits of people of color to suggest how their subjects' lives were warped by racism and oppression.
Included are several large photos that display various degrees of digital abuse; one nearly abstract image appears in both negative and positive versions. There's also a full wall of small, deformed pictures, printed on thin acrylic so they curl partly off the wall. This multitude, dignified yet precarious, is the most powerful chapter in McAfee's history lesson.
Also at Hamiltonian is Rachel Guardiola's "A Hand Without Horizon Is Taller Than Its Other," which includes altered video as well as photos. Mostly derived from the artist's performances, the images illustrate the actions of a fictional "time-traveling surveyor and a horticultural pirate" as they travel "an earth-like planet," according to the gallery.
In the photos, hot colors and overlapping, close-up images seem to turn Guardiola's hands into a sort of flora. In this miniature universe, the artist is both the explorer and the explored.
Antonio McAfee: Old Bad Air and Rachel Guardiola: A Hand Without Horizon Is Taller Than Its Other Through Feb. 17 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, Suite 101. 202-332-1116. hamiltoniangallery.com.