Things are just a little askew at the Korean Cultural Center. Ji Yoon Hwang and Soyoung Kim, the artists of “Surreal Dialogue,” are not extremists. Hwang has mastered landscape painting in oil, and Kim is expert in upholstery and small-scaled pictures in water-based pigments. The dialogue they conduct is not with each other, but with the conventions of their chosen genres.
Kim offers several chairs and a sofa constructed of quilted, candy-colored modules, alongside fabric wall sculptures that employ similar techniques and shapes. It’s her paintings that most clearly display the shared pattern: The interlocking parts mimic legs and arms, so that sitter and sat-upon are both made of flesh-like trunks and limbs. In an installation flanked by banners, faceless dolls lounge on the coach, also melding furniture and the human body. For Kim, there’s a unbreakable link between where we live and who we are.
The human presence is just as submerged in Hwang’s work. Tiny people or houses exist in Hwang’s pictures but are dwarfed by skies and mountains. This proportion is actually typical of ink-painted East Asian landscapes, which often place a miniature hermit or traveler amid the scenery. Hwang invokes this tradition by mounting most of her pictures on wooden rods, like ancient scroll paintings. Yet she paints in a detailed, naturalistic Western mode.
The East-West juxtaposition isn’t the only tweak of expectations. Where Asian landscapes customarily depict nature as serene, these scenes are more ominous and strange. Dark storm clouds mass in the sky, glowering across a five-panel epic skyscape. Thick white mists cloak a butte in “Cloud Island” but dissipate at the bottom to show that the peak is detached from the ground below. Such surreal touches are rare in Hwang’s art but common enough to reveal that her realist vistas are actually fantasies.
Surreal Dialogue: Ji Yoon Hwang & Soyoung Kim On view through Jan. 10 at the Korean Cultural Center, 2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202-939-5688. koreaculturedc.org.
Fabric art can be overly precious, because it enshrines substances that are usually found on hangers, in drawers or on the bathroom floor. Target Gallery’s “Material as Medium” sidesteps this problem, partly by including pieces that are meant to be touched. Also, many of these 16 artists use unconventional ingredients or devise strong textural contrasts.
Kathleen Kennedy’s “Pelt,” which slumps off a pedestal onto the floor, is made of hundreds of found keys, chained tightly together to simulate (at least from a distance) the look of fur. Meaghan Westfall’s “Tube” is genuinely fuzzy, but only on the inside: It’s a concrete tube lined with a bath mat that can be felt by an inserted finger or hand. Suzanna Scott’s “Bound Scissors” eliminates the dangers of running with scissors by upholstering them; visitors are encouraged to rearrange the dozens of small, cloth-covered tools however they like.
Among the light-industrial components are plastic sacks and potato-chip bags. One piece features a more old-timey everyday item: a rocking chair, wrapped in patchwork, so its contours are obscured. Among the few contributors who manipulate actual clothing is Hannah Hiaasen, whose “Ventilated Workwear” is a pair of coveralls incised with a grid of vertical rectangles. Here, it’s the pattern, not the material, that’s the medium.
Almost as old as photography itself, camera-less photograms are produced by arranging objects on light-sensitive paper and then briefly illuminating them. Photograms, often called “rayographs” after noted exponent Man Ray, began with black-and-white images. But they can be made in color, as Tim Otto Roth’s “Flora Domestica” demonstrates. This wall-filling suite of gauzy yet vivid floral close-ups is the brightest star of “Light From the Other Side,” at the Goethe-Institut.
Old-fashioned 3-D glasses are required to view another section of the German artist’s show, which consists of two projections of computer-generated video. There’s a virtual model of Man Ray’s clothes-hanger mobile whose elements appear to dangle and revolve, casting eerie shadows as they seem to approach and recede. More immersive is “Sterea Skia,” a phantom thicket of illusory trees that occupies another wall. A wintry landscape of bare trunks and branches, this piece is as stark as “Flora Domestica” is lush. Both are equally intangible, composed of light forms that merely simulate the natural ones familiar to the naked eye.
Light From the Other Side: Shadowgraphs by Tim Otto Roth On view through Jan. 13 at Goethe-Institut Washington, 1990 K St. NW (entrance on 20th Street). 202-847-4700. goethe.de/washington.
Parsing “The Impulse of Keeping a Record” involves a lot of reading between the lines. Both artists in the Adah Rose Gallery show, Brian Dupont and Alan Steele, are New Yorkers whose work incorporates text, although Dupont’s is wordier.
Dupont paints on aluminum panels that hug the wall or protrude from it. His palette is mostly white, gray, black and rust red, with occasional splashes of brighter hues. The principal features of his pictures are stenciled letters and numerals, but these are smeared, overpainted or obscured so as to become partly abstract, and thus akin to the artist’s wordless brushwork. The text includes literary quotations, court transcripts and the names of German Expressionist film directors. Although these may be carefully chosen, the overall effect is impromptu. Dupont mixes pop art’s taste for mass-produced symbols with abstract expressionism’s preference for spontaneity.
Steele combines drawing, painting and collage. His principal motifs are tight patterns, rendered in fine lines and suggesting labyrinths, city plans and circuit boards. These are set off by blocks of color, usually vivid and simple and sometimes in the yellow, blue and red bars of Venezuela’s flag. (Steele was born in Caracas.) Sections of ribbed cardboard and free-form gestures contrast the intricate lines, but Steele doesn’t always seek complications. One striking minimalist drawing consists of small black marks that cross the center of a white expanse. It looks like a straightforward path out of the urban bustle Steele’s other pieces evoke.
The Impulse of Keeping a Record: Brian Dupont and Alan Steele On view through Jan. 15 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington. 301-922-0162. adahrosegallery.com.