From opposite walls, Muriel Hasbun and Janine Janowski speak to each other in “Calling to You.” The daughter-mother conversation at the heart of the Civilian Art Projects exhibition is complicated. Two pairs of lips, Hasbun’s and Janowski’s, seen on computer screens, begin two sets of photographs. The first is by Hasbun, documenting her late mother’s life and art gallery in El Salvador. The second is by Caroline Lacey, Hasbun’s former student. It chronicles Janowski’s gallery, as well as the bygone Corcoran Gallery of Art, where Hasbun taught and Lacey studied.
The dialogue proceeds by individual images but also overall impressions. Hasbun’s photographs are larger and darker, with intense reds and blues, and are framed in black. Lacey’s are somewhat smaller, as well as lighter in hue, and are in white frames. Although each set includes interior shots, Lacey’s pictures appear sunnier.
Some of hers are also more immediate, at least to viewers familiar with Washington’s art scene, because they poignantly depict the emptying of the Corcoran. One shows the temporary wooden ramp down which artworks were removed from the building. Another depicts a white wall that’s blank, save for the words “Please Do Not Touch,” a plea to preserve the art at an institution that itself was not preserved.
Both photographers make images of images. The wispy clouds in a Lacey picture are actually from an Edward Hopper painting; Hasbun rephotographs old family snapshots and her mother’s passport picture. The content and purpose of the original object is not always clear, signifying the loss of understanding as the past recedes.
Nothing in these photos explicitly says that Janowski was a Holocaust survivor, born in Paris in 1940 and hidden as a child. Or that she became a champion of the art of the nation where she moved as an adult, a country later devoured by civil war. But the pictures do connote damage, fragility and loss. Hasbun’s “Trace,” for example, is a close-up of a spoon chest, empty except for notches in the dark green fabric. What’s missing is simple and obvious, yet evocative of far more than silverware.
Muriel Hasbun & Caroline Lacey: Calling to You On view through Oct. 22 at Civilian Art Projects, 4718 14th St. NW. 202-607-3804. civilianartprojects.com.
If Michael Janis worked with pencil or charcoal, his draftsmanship would be impressive. But the D.C. artist draws photorealist portraits with pulverized glass, placing the powder exactly with tiny tools. Which is extraordinary.
Most of the pieces in “Echoes of Leaves and Shadows,” at Maurine Littleton Gallery, include depictions of pretty young women. These gamines, who might be ballerinas or French New Wave stars, are rendered in granulated black glass fused by heat to clear glass sheets. The pieces aren’t just black-and-clear, though. Janis overlays and underlies patches of translucent colored glass, and often adds such 3-D glass elements as butterflies or flower petals. Aqua and orange are common in this array, among other hues. In one picture, an abstract yellow-green swirl contrasts the subject’s slightly darker green eyes.
Janis employs many variations, slicing faces into three equal parts or contrasting them with panels of textured glass. There are ceramic busts garlanded with glass leaves, and portraits embellished with near-opaque peacock- or dark-blue circles. The latter combine the stateliness of stained-glass windows with the vivacity of pop art — half medieval cathedral, half 1960s Vogue.
Michael Janis: Echoes of Leaves and Shadows On view through Oct. 15 at Maurine Littleton Gallery, 1667 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-333-9307. littletongallery.com.
If “Noise Body Music” is thematically jumbled, that might reflect that curator Eames Armstrong designed it for his “teenage self.” The VisArts show’s motifs include punk rock and transgender identity. But alongside the hyperkinetic videos and the pictures of a queercore band named Homosuperior are Antibody Corporation’s photos of abandoned buildings in Bulgaria and a black monolith whose circular openings reveal changing colors. The latter, by Nate Alex Lewis and Michael Schiffer, responds electronically to ambient noise.
The show relies heavily on audio-visual and computer gear, and some of the entries just don’t fit well into a gallery format. Homosuperior member Amy kc Oden’s “From the Back of the Room,” a documentary about female punk musicians, is interesting. It’s also 105 minutes, which is a long time to stand in front of a video screen in an art gallery.
Noise Body Music On view through Oct. 16 at Kaplan Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org. On the show’s closing date, at 2 p.m., there will be a performance by Scotland’s FK Alexander, whose work is excerpted in a video in the show.
The title of the 33-artist show at 39th Street Gallery, “United in Passion and Pride,” omits another pertinent adjective: grief. The selection was inspired by the June massacre of 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. The pieces include such specific responses as Mark Bieraugel’s diagram of the club, with the location of each body marked by a red sequin, and Elisabeth Jacobsen’s collage-painting of an assault pistol atop a canvas fixed to its frame with 49 staples.
The majority, however, offer more general commentary on American homophobia and violence. In Rosabel Goodman-Everard’s 3-D version of the U.S. flag, each star contains a white-painted toy soldier. Annie Bissett’s contemporary Pieta includes names of gay martyrs from long before the Orlando killings. One of the most effective entries is Damiano Durante’s close-up of a man, emphasizing feet and hands. This realist painting could be seen as political only by those who would deny others their essential humanity.
United in Passion and Pride On view through Oct. 22 at 39th Street Gallery, 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Second Floor, Brentwood, Md. 202-487-8458. 39thstreetgallery.org.
As an African American woman, Washington-bred Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) struggled to become an artist in her homeland. She eventually found her way to Mexico, where she flourished as a printmaker and, later, a sculptor. Hemphill Fine Arts is now showing nine of her sculptures, mostly bronzes. All depict the heads or full bodies of vital black women, employing a streamlined realism that reflects the influence of mid-20th-century abstract sculpture.
Yet Catlett was as much a neoclassicist as a modernist, as she demonstrated by skillfully simulating soft fabric in hard metal or stone. Rather than assault tradition, she expanded it to include her vision, and women like herself.
Elizabeth Catlett On view through Oct. 29 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-234-5601. hemphillfinearts.com.