A few miles apart, two Montgomery County arts spaces are commemorating themselves in contrary ways. “Recollections” at the BlackRock Center for the Arts is a straightforward view of artists over 15 years of exhibitions. “Deep Flash” at VisArts marks the venue’s 30th anniversary with sidelong glances through the eyes of 11 outside curators.
Spread across four galleries, “Deep Flash” is eclectic in both content and intention. Several curators chose a single artist. Among them are Frank Hallam Day, who’s showing vivid photos of ship hulls; Elsabe Dixon, whose nature- and process-oriented work employs bread and live bees; and Joe Shannon, whose violently expressionist paintings address American violence. (Shannon was picked by American University Museum Director Jack Rasmussen, who helped begin Rockville Arts Place, VisArts’ earlier incarnation.)
One area features wall sculptures, mostly but not exclusively in wood, including Foon Sham’s assemblage in the shape of a tree trunk. Among the videos are Lynn Silverman’s literally page-turning account of an influential book of found institutional photos; James Huckenpahler’s ever-changing remix of seemingly solarized historic photos; and Christopher K. Ho’s meditation on geography and personal history, seen through the lens of American pop culture.
Several participants address African American history and identity. Guy Miller’s domestic vignettes spotlight Tarnation-brand “black milk.” Stephen Hayes’s plaster busts of women are adorned with African-style jewelry and mounted poignantly on battered-wood plinths. Shane K. Gooding’s video and deep-shadowed photos evoke ancestry and shared culture.
Curator and photographer Cynthia Connolly (with help from musician and archivist John Davis) trawled her past for an array of 1980s and ’90s punk-rock fliers and fanzines. The goal is not nostalgia but self-expression: A typewriter and copying machine encourage visitors to make their own zines. In the Instagram age, there’s still an allure to putting your obsessions on paper.
“Recollections” is less idiosyncratic and more cohesive. Using both the main gallery and mezzanine, BlackRock is presenting work by 47 artists, many of whom make inventive and unexpected use of everyday stuff.
Joel D’Orazio turns a chair shaggy with blue weed-whacker wire, and Christian Benefiel attaches a tiny bust of himself to the business end of a hammer. Mike Shaffer’s painted-wood sculpture switches from geometric to architectural halfway up, while Renee Lachman’s corset-like assemblage dangles seven legs. Sean Hennessey frames found objects with translucent glass, and Renee van der Stelt juxtaposes drawings of stones with real pebbles. Artists can represent or transform their materials, or simply encourage a fresh look at them.
Deep Flash: On Art and Transformation Through Oct. 14 at VisArts, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. Recollections: Celebrating 15 Years of Exhibitions Through Oct. 13 at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown.
The sea is both barrier and escape route in “Water: Trespassing Liquid Highways.” The artists in the Gallery 102 exhibition are of Middle Eastern or Caribbean origin, as are the featured poets. Some works are highly specific; others are spare and symbolic. Ellington Robinson, a U.S. Virgin Islands native, offers a seemingly abstract picture that actually maps mountainous areas where escaped slaves lived. A green-neon-illuminated glass loop, partly submerged in water, is a Zen-like distillation of ocean by Anahita Bradberry, an Iranian American who has studied Japanese art.
Beirut-born Helen Zughaib’s “Syrian Migration” suite depicts refugees from the civil war but also invokes conflict on the U.S.-Mexico border and Jacob Lawrence’s paintings of the African American exodus to the North. French Tunisian painter Ilyes Messaoudi combines contemporary and classical in scenarios from “One Thousand and One Nights.” In a video, Iraqi American Sama Alshaibi uses flower garlands to represent departure and welcome.
The largest piece is by Scherezade Garcia, a Brooklynite originally from the Dominican Republic. She surrounds two paintings, inspired by the transatlantic slave trade, with six inflatable life-preserver rings. The rings are gold but splashed with blue, picking up colors from the pictures. The history is grim, yet the palette is upbeat.
Water: Trespassing Liquid Highways Through Oct. 12 at Gallery 102, Smith Hall, George Washington University, 801 22nd St. NW.
Local artist Kay Jackson recycles titles throughout “Butterflies & Zebras,” her Addison/Ripley Fine Art show of environmentally themed paintings. Of the repeated phrases, the most apt is “It’s All Connected.” The animals Jackson depicts melt into their surroundings and each other, much as the pictures combine fabulism and naturalism, metallic leaf and various pigments. While the concerns are contemporary, the tempera paint and filmy gold on gessoed wood evoke Renaissance altarpieces and Slavic icons.
Jackson’s zebras can blur from precise renderings into painterly gestures, or become ghostly visions that are partly transparent, their disembodied stripes lingering like the Cheshire Cat’s smile. Two pictures portray a “Zebrafly,” and one includes a zebra, a butterfly and a polar bear cub. If such literal renderings suggest sophisticated children’s-book illustrations, other compositions are more layered and intangible. The patterns on zebra flanks and butterfly wings embody both distinct creatures and archetypal forms.
Kay Jackson: Butterflies & Zebras Through Oct. 13 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Nearly all of the pieces now at Gallery Neptune & Brown are prints, but they’re by artists worthy of the show’s title, “Blue Chip.” Included are a pencil-like odalisque by Henri Matisse; a wispy “Breakfast” by Wayne Thiebaud, who’s known for heartier paintings of similar fare; and a sketchy cow by Georg Baselitz, recently the subject of a Hirshhorn retrospective.
One wall is dominated by Joan Mitchell’s calligraphic “Sunflowers III,” which condenses its subject to strokes of black, red and gold. Equally poised are two sculptors’ one-dimensional renderings of basic forms: Richard Serra’s grainy corkscrews and Henry Moore’s elegantly modeled massings (plus one tiny bronze). The artworks may not be massive canvases, but Ellsworth Kelly’s intriguingly proportioned “Blue, Yellow, Red” demonstrates that a print can be as vivid as a painting.
Blue Chip Through Oct. 14 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW.