With their thickets of wooden planks, Christian Benefiel’s sculptures look as though they were assembled by a tornado. The three large pieces in the Western Maryland artist’s “Structural Tissue,” at the BlackRock Center for the Arts, were plotted with drawings and computer simulations. Yet they appear as deconstructed as constructed.
Benefiel thinks of his works as partly metaphorical. It represents the interconnection of parts of a whole, whether cells in an organism or people in society. Made from salvaged material, his creations also mirror nature’s infinite loop of decay and reuse. Yet the sculptures’ physical presence upstages such symbolism.
Although made from similar materials, the three constructions are quite different. The piece “Most of my favorite houses have been haunted and haunts have been houses” is the most architectural, with vertical elements that resemble a simple dwelling as well as Soviet Constructivist V. Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International.” The coiling slats of Benefiel’s “Opportunity, Obstacle and Ordeal” define a cone or tunnel, hung from the ceiling with steel hooks and nylon cord.
More feral is his “The power of the internet settling the debate over nature and nurture,” a bristling wooden porcupine that seems to stand on dozens of legs, although not all of them actually support the creature. A tree branch, painted blue, snakes through the interior like a central vein. It’s the most chaotic of the three assemblages, but that blue line suggests a pulsing inner logic.
Upstairs at BlackRock, Alex L. Porter depicts wood in its uncut form. The stark yet detailed ink drawings in “Reaching From Soil” depict trees as tangled black shapes, silhouetted against white skies. Whether focusing on a single set of branches, an extensive root system or a row of street trees, the D.C. artist renders them as intricate latticework. Sometimes, blocks of gray ink-wash represent named Washington apartment buildings, but it’s clear that in Porter’s city of trees, the man-made structures are not the real monuments.
Christian Benefiel: Structural Tissue and Alex L. Porter: Reaching From Soil On view through Oct. 22 at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown. 301-528-2260. blackrockcenter.org/galleries/current-exhibits.
A printmaker who has steadily expanded his repertoire, William Kentridge makes animated films, directs operas and sometimes, more quietly, presents his images just as watermarks in paper. Gallery Neptune & Brown organized “The Great Storyteller” to mark the venue’s publication of three hand-colored linocuts by the South African artist, all inspired by his 2015 staging of “Lulu” at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The show also coincides with the exhibition of Kentridge’s “Portage,” a 14-foot-wide series of prints, at the newly reopened National Gallery of Art's East Building.
In this selection, Kentridge draws on Hogarth, Japanese woodcuts and — a recurring theme — his homeland’s struggle over apartheid. The results are diverse, but the show is organized to highlight stylistic kinships in dissimilar works. Several black-and-white prints, heightened by small areas of gray, hang next to a silhouette of a bird that has been transferred from paper to laser-cut, black-painted steel. The sculpture sits slightly off the wall, so it casts shadows that resemble the gray traces in the prints. The piece demonstrates how Kentridge can draw with something as solid as metal, or as evanescent as light.
William Kentridge: The Great Storyteller On view through Oct. 22 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. 202-986-1200. neptunefineart.com.
As traditionalists reading these words on paper may know, the space between printed columns is known as a gutter. Mike Hagan plays on that term in his Washington Printmakers Gallery show, “Dark Gutter.” Included is a black-and-white rendering of water streaming into a street gutter, as well as prints that juxtapose images with blocks of text in English and Japanese. The latter is the language of pioneering 19th-century printmaker Hokusai, whose art has influenced Hagan. But this array — diverse in both style and subject — also encompasses Leonardo da Vinci, Marilyn Monroe and a certain U.S. presidential candidate whose hair is abstracted into a yellow pop-art swirl.
A dark gutter, too messy and expensive for newspaper printing, allows an image to emerge dramatically from printed blackness. Hagan illustrates that gambit and many others, tinkering with form as well as content. He makes screen prints, also known as silk-screens, but uses the technique to simulate engraving and other processes. If “Dark Gutter” is a lecture about the medium’s abundant possibilities, it is one that’s both entertaining and cleverly illustrated.
Mike Hagan: Dark Gutter On view through Oct. 29 at Washington Printmakers Gallery, 1641 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-669-1497. washingtonprintmakers.com.
The precedents for Matthew Langley’s handsome abstractions include Gene Davis’s stripes and Barnett Newman’s color fields punctuated by the thin vertical absences he called “zips.” Like Newman, the Alexandria-bred Langley usually divides his territory with white zips, but he sometimes employs black or dark gray ones. These are less emphatic than white lines but suit Langley’s palette. Most of the hues in Langley’s show at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, “Gravity,” are cool and restrained. They evoke water and forest, evening shadow and winter sunshine.
There are few bright tones among the loosely graduated strips, and Langley occasionally permits more than one color family on a single canvas. Typically, though, the contrasts don’t stray far from the central theme. “Cold Mountain,” for example, flows from white to gray via pinkish variations on the former and brownish ones on the latter. The sense of motion is palpable, but so is the artist’s rigorous control.
Matthew Langley: Gravity On view through Oct. 22 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW 202-965-4601. callowayart.com.
Holly Meeker Rom’s watercolors, at Gallery A, include deftly executed but unsurprising florals and landscapes. One interesting hybrid, “House and Garden,” builds a tidily geometric structure behind flowers rendered as near-abstract blossoms of color. But the most expressive works are two collage-paintings that conjure glacial geography. The cut paper, accompanied by pigment laid down both before and after the pieces were assembled, suggests cracked ice, fault lines and buried depths. These pictures are the show’s least literal, and most substantial.
Holly Meeker Rom On view through Oct. 29 at Gallery A, 2106 R St. NW. 202-667-2599. alexgalleries.com.