Traditionally, artists take the grand view of nature, leaving scientists to muck around with the details. But the tasks are no longer neatly divided. Inspired by new technology and newly evident environmental threats, artists have turned their attention to processes and life-forms that were once unappreciated or imperceptible. Now, an art exhibition can have a title, such as “Methods of Inquiry: Fields of Discovery” at MPA at Chain Bridge Gallery, that sounds as though it’s borrowed from a science museum.
Several of the six artists, all local, use staining, a technique once associated with the Washington school of color abstraction. Atsuko Chirikjian connects test tubes via threads to large sheets of paper, so that watery pigments migrate to the white surface and tint it in cell-like patterns. Leslie Holt’s “Brain Stain” pictures offset bold acrylic painting with spidery embroidery, inspired by how mental illnesses appear in brain scans. Michele Banks’s soft but vividly hued watercolors, some displayed in petri dishes, depict viruses, bacteria and other microscopic players, including sperm thronging an egg.
Sometimes the scale is elusive. The tightly interlocked lines in Spencer Dormitzer’s pulsating drawings, packed within circles on vast expanses of white paper, also suggest cells and microbes. Yet their titles refer to asteroids. In his sculptures of fungi and foliage, Marc Robarge enlarges and sometimes distorts. Planted in piles of earth, the fabricated specimens appear almost real, yet intriguingly skewed.
To represent both scientific method and phenomena, Susan Main combines painting, drawing and video. Unexplained marks resemble notes and graphs, and glowing white orbs seem to document the sun’s progress across the sky. But Main, whose stated goal is to reveal “a landscape just on the edge of our perceptual experience,” may have simulated this parade with something altogether less celestial than the sun. Unlike scientists, artists are allowed to fake their data for a higher purpose.
Methods of Inquiry: Fields of Discovery Through March 3 at MPA at Chain Bridge Gallery, 1446 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean. 703-790-1953. mpaart.org.
Science assumes a more antic demeanor in “Triplets: The Enigmatic Egos,” an installation so multifarious that it has three auteurs. The artist is Jenna North, a recent arrival to Washington who has lived in New York and Kansas and led a community eco-art project in the Maldives. These locales inspired two alter egos: Wendy Well, an interior designer who endorses fracking, and Joan Dare, the wife of a Kansas senator whose callings are tea parties and small talk.
Most of the space is devoted to photo collages, overpainted and mounted along lengths of wallpaper. These are both ominous and comic. The mashed-up images include drilling rigs, rural landscapes and numerous underwater portraits of North and her fictional sisters; in one, Dare swims while wearing pearls and a scarf. There also are videos, two mannequins, flowering plants, knickknacks that include shotgun shells and a well-known show tune. “Climb Every Mountain,” it implores, while drilling undermines the earth under the triplets’ feet. North’s message is complicated but not enigmatic.
A few steps away at the Anacostia Arts Center, Meghan Walsh’s wall-mounted mosaics assemble cut and fractured bits of stone and glass, as well as found objects. Each piece in her “Athbheachan: Untranslatable Wisdom” is titled after a non-English word that expresses a profound concept. (The title is Gaelic for “revival.”) The shards are clustered in curling arrangements that suggest waves, while contrasting hard materials with soft contours. In her note, Walsh writes of climate change, rising sea levels and “wisdom drowned in the oceans during the many passages of immigrants all over the world.” But Walsh’s undulating sculptures, made of rough parts yet elegant in whole, speak less of language than of the wordless expertise of the hand.
Jenna North: Triplets: The Enigmatic Egos Through March 3 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. honfleurgallery.com.
Meghan Walsh: Athbheachan: Untranslatable Wisdom Through March 2 at Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-631-6291. anacostiaartscenter.org.
A longtime Londoner who spent much of his childhood in Washington, Michael Craig-Martin is probably best known for “An Oak Tree,” a 1973 conceptual work that doesn’t actually feature an oak tree. The screen prints in Gallery Neptune & Brown’s “Quotidian: Recent Editions” are rather more literal. These coloring-book-style renderings — sometimes filled in with bright, simple hues — depict everyday items with the precision of technical drawings. No ambiguity, of either technique or interpretation, is permitted.
The subjects are mostly mass-produced, from sneakers to airliners. But Craig-Martin is interested in anything with clean lines and a recognizable shape, including Le Corbusier’s chapel at Ronchamp. Another concern is history, but only as written by commonplace stuff: A series of dual portraits overlays changing products such as telephones and lightbulbs, the older version in red and the newer one in black. The most playful entry is “The Planets,” in which the orbs that circle the sun are replaced with balls used in various sports. It suggests the beginning of a project to replace every lumpy, singular object in the universe with a sleek, machine-tooled counterpart.
Michael Craig-Martin: Quotidian: Recent Editions Through March 3 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. 202-986-1200. neptunefineart.com.
Whether mystical, mathematical or practical, all the forms shimmer in Jordann Wine’s “Infinite Glitter.”
The Mansion at Strathmore exhibition draws on fractals and mandalas to suggest both sacred and scientific conceptions of the universe. The D.C. artist arrays, intersects and overlaps circles, squares and triangles in gold, silver and black, incising patterns into fields of craft-store glitter glued to (and usually entirely covering) wooden panels. The orderly abstractions, which include two triangular benches made with Kenny Wine, suggest cubism and stained-glass windows, as well as the endlessly replicable matrices of computer graphics. Wine’s progressively intertwined shapes might not be truly infinite, but they beckon the eye toward eternity.
Jordann Wine: Infinite Glitter On view through March 4 at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda. 301-581-5109. strathmore.org/fineartexhibitions.