The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In the galleries: Cultures, collisions, climate change and French connections

"The Washingtonian Service" (2019) by Neil Forrest. Porcelain, terra cotta, stoneware, glazes metal, wood, video. (Courtesy of Hillyer)
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The sky is falling and the ocean is rising at IA&A at Hillyer, where art by Neil Forrest and Noel Kassewitz ponders the state of the union, with a few nods to French history. Forrest makes ceramic planetoids that he literally crashes into terra cotta platforms, in the process invoking Napoleon and the District’s only Mies van der Rohe building. Kassewitz revisits rococo, an 18th-century French style, with one eye on the waters lapping at Miami, her hometown.

The title of Forrest’s whimsical “The Washingtonian Service” refers to “the Egyptian services,” sets of porcelain cups and dishes made for Napoleon and decorated with pseudo-Egyptian motifs in honor of the emperor’s campaign on the far side of the Mediterranean. (Although a military failure, the expedition inspired an enduring European vogue for ancient Egyptian culture, both real and imagined.)

The Nova Scotia-based Forrest works in porcelain and stoneware but doesn’t make vessels for aristocrats’ tables. His spherical creations, roughly the size of bowling balls and pockmarked with craters, appear to have dropped from space. And they really do drop, as the artist attests to with a video of his process. Its soundtrack punctuates the show with regular thumps.

Adding two more historical periods to his vision, Forrest made a scale replica of a local building he dubs Washington’s equivalent of Rome’s millennia-old Colosseum: Mies’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, an austere International Style structure that’s undergoing a contemporary-baroque remake. The artist erects only the outer walls of the building, which he makes white rather than black — thus removing one common gripe about the library, which Forrest’s statement dryly calls “perhaps unloved by many.” Inside the model building’s shell is the chasm left by one of those thumping orbs: Form falls to destruction.

If the menace posed by Forrest’s spheres is more playful than actual, Kassewitz’s “Rococo Remastered” addresses a genuine threat. Yet the Florida-bred D.C. artist takes a jauntily mixed-media approach, combining rococo-style paintings of aquatic scenes with found objects such as winged pool floats. The wings might belong to cherubs, common in rococo scenes. So is pink, a color that links rococo to Miami Beach art-deco buildings and what the gallery’s note calls “pool-party culture.”

Rose-colored flippers lean against the wall, near a set of “designer sandbags (Miami edition).” Inflatable creatures, including a dolphin and two pink sex dolls, burst from canvases as if breaking a watery surface. Several books of rococo paintings are opened to pages with scenes that echo the ones Kassewitz painted.

Both Miami and the 18th century are a long way from today’s District, which could make “Rococo Remastered” feel remote from the issue it raises. But there’s also a photo of a woman afloat near the Lincoln Monument, which effectively paddles the show’s theme home.

Neil Forrest: The Washingtonian Service and Noel Kassewitz: Rococo Remastered Through Feb. 2 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW.

2019 Post-Grad Residents

The four artists in Target Gallery’s “2019 Post-Grad Residents,” who each enjoyed three-month stints at the arts center, are dissimilar in style and media. But all are engaged in some form of self-portraiture, however untraditional. Where Michaela Japec and Kim Sandara depict their physical selves, Katana Lippart and Nava Levenson search for themselves in found materials.

Japec employs the most conventional tools: paints and brushes. Her three large nude self-renderings range in mode from realist to expressionist and from calm to agitated. In the most difficult picture, Japec visualizes her anxieties as bloody self-mutilation.

Sandara, who describes herself as queer and Lao/Viet, offers a stop-action video that’s mostly about the experiences of her parents while fleeing Southeast Asia. The video is surrounded by the paper puppets the artist used to tell the story, which ends with a leap to Sandara’s teenage exploration of her sexual orientation.

In an era of seamless digital cutting and pasting, Lippart makes “analog collages” that feature domestic objects and figures of women and girls. The goal is to “resolve the broken ties between self and home,” the artist says in a statement. That rupture aside, Lippart’s art is notable for its clean execution and tidy design sense.

Levenson provided quart-size canning jars for other artists to fill with what she terms “studio dirt.” Some of the contents are catalogued on strips of paper, one long enough that it drapes on the floor. In both a parody of and an homage to scientific method, Levenson offers a metal desk and a set of tools. The desk holds one of five jars of her own art detritus, open so that visitors can sift and analyze the stuff. In someone else’s junk, the artist suggests, you just might find yourself.

2019 Post-Grad Residents Through Jan. 19 at Target Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.

ReClaimed ReUsed RePurposed

Trash was also picked for Studio Gallery’s “ReClaimed ReUsed RePurposed,” featuring eight local artists who transformed castoff materials. The first in a series of exhibitions focused on the climate crisis, the show won’t surprise viewers who know the contributors’ work. But it does include a few graceful twists on familiar styles.

Julia Bloom builds asymmetrical lattices from twigs, often painted, and supplements such constructions with a painted representation of them. Gloria Chapa molds a large bowl from onionskin petals, covered in resin and set on an altar of dried vines. Three stumps scavenged by Glenn Richardson serve as bases for Liz Lescault’s surrealist sculptures, made of aluminum slag studded with found objects. The biomorphic forms of painter Pat Goslee (who is married to Washington Post journalist Michael O’Sullivan) here spiral on salvaged boards and a table top.

More technologically, Erwin Timmers sets panels made of recycled glass into metal frames, using throwaway items such as plastic-bottle bottoms as molds. Projection artist Robin Bell recycles parts of older works, scattering still and video images amid found objects, including a metal frame that turned up the day he installed the pieces. Simpler but just as striking is Jessica Beels’s array of abstract gestures, painted in metallic pigments on a ribbon of shiny black material. The fabric is a length of fused plastic bags, diverted from the landfill for a higher purpose than their manufacturers could have ever imagined.

ReClaimed ReUsed RePurposed: Sustainable Art for the Planet Through Jan. 25 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW.