A focus group, as the gallery’s statement notes, is designed to gauge customer’s likely reaction to new pitches (including political ones) and products. In this era of nonstop information gathering, every human transaction potentially yields a focus-group scoop. The commodity that might result “thus begins to resemble the consumer whom it targets as its shape is coaxed into being by millions of points of data feedback,” the statement says.
That sounds a little more Orwellian than most of the artworks in this show appear to be. Catharine Czudej’s video incorporates snippets of ads for TV-peddled innovations such as the Magic Peeler, while painter Julia Wachtel copies cartoons of happy tipplers that might be from cocktail-bar coasters. An artist who goes by Puppies Puppies (a.k.a. Jade Kuriki Olivo), scatters empty Cheetos bags on the floor and, more disturbingly, lays out a life-size mummified corpse. (It’s a movie prop, not a case for the District’s forensic pathologist.)
Several other participants hint that modern life is a sort of horror movie. Alex Bag redecorated the gallery’s bathroom with nude photos and dried drips of fluid. They’ve congealed on the wall like blood, but their bright, artificial colors suggest shampoo and body wash rather than gore. Emily Schubert and Naoki Sutter-Shudo both fetishize body parts — fingers and teeth, respectively — by displaying them as if they’re pieces of candy.
Many of the pieces manipulate found objects. Tony Hope splashes an Insane Clown Posse T-shirt with cereal, stuck to the fabric with polyurethane rather than milk. Josh Kline stocks a shopping cart with clear plastic bottles, illuminated from below by a white LED. Jacob Kassay places the green plastic cape from a Doctor Doom action figure over another LED, transforming it into a night light.
The gallery compares such assemblages to the ready-mades, including a wheel and an urinal, displayed by Marcel Duchamp a century ago. Yet these 18 artists have a different goal than Duchamp, who didn’t intend social commentary. It used to be that a wheel was just a wheel. Now every consumer product is a weapon, fabricated from carefully monitored hopes and dreams. “Focus Group” demonstrates that there are ways, however modest, to turn these munitions against their makers.
Focus Group Through Jan. 11 at Von Ammon Co., 3330 Cady’s Alley NW.
Lewman & Ahmad
Ellicott City painter Leah Lewman depicts deserts and mountains, but the most visceral pictures in her “Erasing Places” portray her current hometown under aquatic assault. Inundated by two recent major floods, the Maryland town is among the least theoretical subjects in the artist’s show at VisArts Concourse Gallery. It also includes small paintings of California exurban houses torched by wildfires whose red flames are rare blazes of color in the artist’s mostly blue, gray and tan palette.
Lewman earned her MFA in Arizona, whose great outdoors she also represents. The desert pictures are more abstract and often superimpose modernist structures on natural landscapes. These starkly geometric edifices breach the environment — sometimes literally, as when the artist cuts architectural shapes into monochromatic views of open land, revealing a black layer below. Lewman’s larger paintings of hard-edge forms imposed on undulating terrain illustrate human arrogance and obliviousness; the smaller ones of fire and flood can be seen as nature’s counterattack.
Pakistani-born Sobia Ahmad conjures a rather different sense of place. Her “Wherever You Are Is Called Here” at VisArts Common Ground Gallery, is 12 white banners made of rice sacks and personally meaningful data: Images from Google Maps and pictures of the Maryland artist’s childhood home are distilled to black patterns printed on the woven fabric. Ahmad calls the pieces “anti-flags,” perhaps because they signify an individual rather than a nation.
The sacks evoke rice fields once cultivated by Ahmad’s grandfather; piped into the gallery is audio of the sessions in which Ahmad and her grandmother made the banners. Such specific details can’t prevent memories from fading. Ahmad, who has previously shown partly obliterated ID photos of Muslim immigrants, has adorned the anti-flags with imagery that’s faint and fragmentary. These are mementos of a there that no longer fully exists.
Painted with exquisite detail and precision, the pictures in Maremi Andreozzi’s “Hidden Histories” portray notable women from centuries past. But it’s not just male-dominated history that casts these female luminaries into shadow. So does the Fairfax County artist, who doesn’t include faces in her paintings.
On display at Signature, a gallery in an apartment building that’s programmed by the nearby Greater Reston Arts Center, “Hidden Histories” combines paintings from two series. One set depicts female artists such as Clara Peeters by arraying items that might be depicted in one of the 17th-century painter’s own still lifes. The other represents Catherine de Medici, Mary Queen of Scots, and the like as featureless black silhouettes set off by their elaborate jewelry and costumes. Andreozzi pulls these adornments from research, not her imagination.
Despite her historical subjects and meticulous style, Andreozzi is a something of a modernist. Her noble-lady silhouettes are framed by blocks of bright, clean color, as if they were Andy Warhol portraits of Jackie or Marilyn. And her renderings, despite their realism, are flattened to emphasize their artificiality. Even in these canny homages, the actuality of these women is somewhat hidden.