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In the galleries: Disrupting and denaturing the concept of comfortable at home

Installation shot of “Homeowner” (2020) by Catherine Czudej. Vinyl billboards, thread, air blower. (Photo: Vivian Doering/von ammon co)

A man’s home is his castle, says a maxim coined back when women rarely had property rights. The adage posits a sense of security, a feeling that’s decidedly lacking from Catharine Czudej’s “Homeowner.” There’s a castle at the center of the Von Ammon Co. show, but it’s not a place to feel at ease.

Czudej’s edifice, also titled “Homeowner,” is of the inflatable, flexible sort designed for bouncing children. But its plastic panels have been replaced with pieces of vinyl billboards that advertise commercial products and services marketed to adults. Cut together haphazardly, the advertisements would be hard to read even if the bounce castle were completely filled with air, which it isn’t. Czudej, a South Africa-born New Yorker, prefers things that are saggy, lumpy or otherwise imperfect.

She’s also keen on apparent hazards. The show includes piles of phone books, covered in polyurethane resin and placed next to a lamp. The assemblage seems ready to erupt into flames and incinerate the whole Gutenberg era. Nearby, black polyurethane is molded into the shape of a large, flat-screen TV, placed on the wall near another lamp. A clothing rack holds three handmade Velcro jumpsuits, hung closely so they can stick to each other. Whether such entanglements are desirable or dangerous is unclear.

A gallery note calls Czudej’s fabrications “pseudomorphs” designed to “denature” mainstream U.S. culture. The artist also tweaks mid-20th-century American abstract painting with two blotchy pictures made on whiteboards with oil-based markers. They look like the work of some inadvertent Cy Twombley at a corporate retreat. Which, come to think of it, might be the ideal site for a bouncy castle festooned with the sort of promotional messages Czudej stitched together to make “Homeowner.”

Catharine Czudej: Homeowner Through March 21 at Von Ammon Co., 3330 Cady’s Alley NW.

Stephanie Garon

The natural and the man-made meet in Stephanie Garon’s art, and the results aren’t gentle. Some of the pieces in “(De)composition,” the Baltimore artist’s show at the District of Columbia Arts Center, are less encounters than collisions.

Several welded black-steel structures enclose a broken branch or a single large leaf. Dry and partly withered, the tree parts will continue to decay, much like the beet juice Garon mixes with charcoal to make the large abstract drawings that constitute the bulk of the exhibition. The steel boxes are far sturdier than the vegetal ingredients, yet open in form, so they define the found objects in space without fully containing them.

The contrast between organic and metallic is not the only tension in Garon’s work; the artist also pits drawing against sculpture. The charcoal renderings are enclosed by steel casings that can become part of the composition. Metal bars emanate from the frames to slash across or curl around the picture plane, drawing 3-D lines that are mirrored by charcoal strokes. The opposition is vivid visually and packs a philosophical kick. Garon has choreographed a dance between transience and permanence.

Sketching and sculpting also merge in the work of Joanne Kent, whose little “Talismans” are in DCAC’s tiny Nano Gallery. Most often, the D.C. artist constructs thick layers of pigment atop small rectangles of canvas, allowing tantalizing glimpses of differently hued lower levels. But the most talismanic of the pieces are three that are painted in neutral colors on near-squares of notched wood. Simple and mysterious, these “Mini-Etudes” have a primal allure.

Stephanie Garon: (De)composition and Joanne Kent: Talismans Through March 22 and May 10, respectively, at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW.

Matt Neuman

The undulations in Matt Neuman’s Long View Gallery show, “\for-mu-la\,” seem to emanate from nature, but the Brooklyn artist makes them sleek and regular. Meticulously arrayed, the echoing curves suggest fingerprint whorls or ripples on lakes and ponds. Neuman’s own term for one of his motifs is “Wavelengths,” a title he applies to many prints that are identical save for their color schemes. Usually executed in eye-popping hues, these large woodcuts are square — the perfect format for a 1970s Philip Glass album cover.

Like Glass in those days, Neuman composes odes to repetition. Such cadences are “fundamental to the natural order,” says the artist’s statement, which adds that “the never ending potential of pattern speaks immediately to the infinite.” The prints (and a pair of similarly patterned acrylic paintings) also are unashamedly decorative, even on the rare occasion when the artist trades hot colors for black-and-white or subdued shades of blue.

The showiest pieces are huge, partly mirrored and eccentrically (but geometrically) shaped. They allow viewers to gaze into infinity and see themselves at the same time. But Neuman doesn’t need such glossy materials. He can conjure eternity simply with recurring gnarls inked on paper.

Matt Neuman: \for-mu-la\ Through March 22 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW.

Carl Alexander

Now revealed after being mostly unseen for 50 or more years, Carl Alexander’s paintings don’t startle or amaze. But they certainly deserve the viewing they’re getting at Zenith Gallery, which boldly bills the local African American artist as “The Last Washington Unknown Color School Painter.”

Alexander studied with Morris Louis in 1953, during the one semester the Color School exemplar taught at Howard University. Alexander may have learned how to stain canvases from Louis, but that technique is not central to his style. Indeed, the pictures in this show, mostly from the 1950s and ’60s, don’t follow any one style. While primarily abstract, they sometimes include representational elements, and appear to be influenced by a range of European and American modernists. There are even glimmers of Pop Art in the primary-color canvases, which deploy red, blue and yellow with the directness of Warhol or Lichtenstein.

For many years, Alexander worked as a designer at the Smithsonian Institution, where one of his colleagues was Kenneth Young. Young exhibited his paintings and became moderately well known; his reputation has continued to grow since his 2017 death. Perhaps working in public helped Young develop a more coherent approach than Alexander’s. There are strong pictures in this selection, but a distinct vision never quite comes into focus.

Carl Alexander: The Last Washington Unknown Color School Painter Through March 21 at Zenith Gallery, 1429 Iris St. NW.

In The Galleries

In The Galleries