The subtitle of “Porcelainia: East Meets West” can be read several ways. Porcelain began in China, so the four Western ceramists in this Cross MacKenzie Gallery exhibition are heirs to an Asian practice. The show, curated by Leslie Ferrin, was inspired by the Sackler Gallery’s “Chinamania.” It features two large pieces by Walter McConnell, who’s also in this grouping. He and the others have all worked in China.
They’re not traditionalists. McConnell builds stupa-like structures from dozens of ceramic figures of Western pop-culture ready-mades; his largest piece arrays Elvis, E.T., Lincoln and Winnie the Pooh, all in white. Paul Scott updates actual 19th-century British tableware with contemporary rural vistas; the color scheme is the standard blue-on-white, but the scenery features intrusions such as power-generating windmills.
Steven Young Lee’s pottery is classical in form and ornament but breached by intentional holes. He puts the image of the crane, which in Asia symbolizes longevity, on a vase whose fractures suggest precariousness. Sin-ying Ho’s piece incorporates what appear to be shards of conventional blue-and-white pottery, but they’re integral parts of the bulbous, ungainly whole. Unlike the imported ceramics that sparked “Chinamania” in Victorian Britain, the work in this show is suspicious of beauty. Not so suspicious, however, as to reject entirely porcelain’s graceful form and alluring sheen.
Porcelainia: East Meets West On view through Dec. 8 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.
Rachel Farbiarz’s “A Different Country” tells many stories in two modes. Yet all are part of one ongoing chronicle of inhumanity. The biggest pieces in the D.C. artist’s show at G Fine Art are collage-drawings that combine cutout figures from many historical eras and events into universal tableaux. Contrasting these pieces are stark pencil renderings of news photos, with captions that place each scene specifically, whether in Germany in 1945 or near the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016. These pictures individualize general cataclysms such as war, disease and displacement.
“A Different Country” refers to upheavals in one homeland, as well as the need to seek another. There’s a sense of movement in the larger assemblages, in which the elements are connected — by literal links such as ropes and banners — yet dispersed on vast white fields. The pencil drawings also have white backdrops, but they focus on one incident and at most a few people. The big collages are more open, both visually and to interpretation. Constructed from artifacts of desperate history, they testify to human suffering but seem to offer paths to sanctuary.
Rachel Farbiarz: A Different Country On view through Dec. 10 at G Fine Art, 4718 14th St. NW. 202-462-1601. gfineartdc.com.
At the University of Maryland Art Gallery, one room is permanently named for Herman Maril, who taught at the school from 1948 to 1977. Now the entire space is devoted to a Maril retrospective, “The Strong Forms of Our Experience.” The earliest pictures are from 1929, a few years before the Baltimore artist won the support of Duncan Phillips and took a job with the federal Public Works of Art Project. The last is from 1985, the year before Maril died.
Maril’s quiet style and serene subjects barely shifted over six decades. Even when painting a blood-red World War II scene, the artist’s hand didn’t become agitated. The young Maril was shaped by the traditional Asian art he saw at the Freer and the European modernism of the Phillips and Baltimore’s Cone Collection, and those influences never left him. Cubism is less important in Maril’s later work. He flirted with abstraction in some landscapes, but his work was always representational. Among the show’s most appealing entries are Maril’s 1970s ink-wash paintings. Depicting American vistas, the artist remembered the Chinese lessons absorbed at the Freer decades before.
Herman Maril: The Strong Forms of Our Experience On view through Dec. 9 at the University of Maryland Art Gallery, 1202 Art-Sociology Building, College Park, Md. 301-405-1474. artgallery.umd.edu.
A pair of Baltimore artists interpret African American history in the Stamp Gallery’s “Black Maths,” which plucks images and sounds from 1900 and 2015, respectively. Antonio McAfee’s “Counter-Archive Project” began with a photographic exhibition, organized by W.E.B. DuBois and others, of middle-class Georgians of color. The artist distorts these formal portraits, whether transforming them into flickering video specters or adapting them for viewing through retro 3-D glasses. The effect is to render the pictures more iconic, yet also more elusive. The fragmentation evokes the vulnerability of the subjects, relatively affluent yet always at risk in the Jim Crow South.
More than a century later, one of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods erupted after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries he suffered in police custody. Adam Holofcener’s “Upresting” orchestrates field recordings from that period, scattered though the space by four speakers. There’s also a microphone so visitors can add their voices, soft or loud, to that of the angry crowd. Like McAfee’s remix of historical faces, Holofcener’s installation blends the past with its ongoing consequences.
Black Maths: Adam Holofcener & Antonio McAfee On view through Dec. 10 at the Stamp Gallery, Adele H. Stamp Student Union, University of Maryland, College Park, Md. 301-314-8492. thestamp.umd.edu/gallery.
The title of Sidney Lawrence’s “Variety Show” refers not only to the multiple formats — such as drawing, painting and sculpture — but also to the D.C. artist’s varied interests, among them dogs, cities and art history. Lawrence’s University of California Washington Center exhibition visits some new places but depicts them in familiar ways.
There are multiple views of Washington’s Mall, a longtime Lawrence motif, and prints of Georgetown’s churches and synagogue. Self-portraits hang alongside work in the styles of Italian Renaissance painters and contemporary text artist Jenny Holzer. Aside from the artist’s usual themes, what links it all is whimsy. An aerial view of Brasilia’s monumental core is cut out to emphasize the design’s birdlike shape and underpinned with fake grass. Even when affecting a godlike vantage, Lawrence doesn’t take his viewpoint very seriously.
Variety Show: Sidney Lawrence On view through Dec. 8 at the University of California Washington Center, 1608 Rhode Island Ave. NW. sidneylawrenceart.com.