The contributors to the Athenaeum’s “The Hand Print Workshop: Twenty Years of Partnership in Print” include such well-known D.C. (or D.C.-rooted) ones as William Christenberry, Renee Stout, Steven Cushner, Tom Green and Y. David Chung. But the catalogue also lists a lot of Slavic names, including those of the celebrated team of Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. How did they infiltrate the retrospective of an Alexandria-based atelier?
It turns out that the nonprofit workshop’s history covers a lot more than two decades — Dennis O’Neil founded it in 1983 — and includes a 1991-1997 stint in Moscow. The 20 years count from when Hand Print Workshop International returned to Virginia, but the earliest pieces in this handsome show are from 1998, and about a third of them are by Russians or Ukrainians.
O’Neil, who made four of the 32 prints, champions nontoxic materials and new techniques in screen printing. These can produce looser, more fluid results than traditional silk-screen methods. Such innovations might be what inspired Chung, known for his bold black forms, to add subtle color to his two vivid prints. Wax media was mixed with pigments to yield Stout’s striking “Reverend Zombie’s Window” (which also incorporates glass beads) and O’Neil’s “Moscow Revisited,” a grid of about 400 portraits.
There’s no overarching aesthetic, but the workshop seems to favor weathered imagery and vintage subjects. These include Christenberry’s battered signs, plugging retro products and old-time religion, and Vera Khlebnikova’s massive array of canceled Russian stamps. Among the other highlights are Leonid Tishkov’s impressionist cityscape and Pavel Makov’s “Nightingale,” which sets the bird against vertical stripes of serene, abstract color. Like many of these printmakers, Makov combines observation of the world with a celebration of sheer invention.
The Hand Print Workshop: Twenty Years of Partnership in Print On view through April 2 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria. 703-548-0035. nvfaa.org.
If the pieces in “Preconceptual: Zeitgeist IV” appear unlike in style and content, that’s intentional. The 16 artists in the Hillyer Art Space show were asked to exemplify various ideas, from the traditional (“landscape,” “figurative”) to the trendy (“identity,” “appropriation”). Most of the resulting works are mixed-media and three-dimensional.
The current political climate, unsurprisingly, shaped some entries. Laurel Lukaszewski spells out “RESIST” in black stoneware letters, and American and Russian flags merge in Justyne Fischer’s woodcut.
Other pieces toy with form and found objects. Jessica Beels mounts a crow’s nest full of avian treasures atop a tripod of rusted garden tools. Anne Smith assembles a minimalist sculpture of wood and string, charcoal and graphite. Ira Tattelman employs a white vinyl banner, hung asymmetrically, to conjure swoops and shadows. Zade Ramsey gave figures of circus performers an added playful twist: One is made of steel, the others of fabric painted to simulate metal.
The premise of curators Sondra N. Arkin, Thomas Drymon and Ellyn Weiss for the show involves a “preconceptual” trick. That gambit won’t be revealed here, but it has something to do with Weiss’s concern that at recent art exhibitions, “the wall plaques describing the work are often more consequential than the work itself.”
Weiss’s essay suggests this is a new development, but Tom Wolfe derided the phenomenon back in 1975, in a short book titled “The Painted Word.” Parodying the outlook of art critics, Wolfe wrote that, “frankly, these days without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.” At the time, much of the art world did not relish Wolfe’s essay.
Preconceptual: Zeitgeist IV On view through April 2 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW. 202-338-0325. hillyerartspace.org.
It has been a hundred years since about 170 suffragists were arrested in Washington and sent to Lorton Prison, where they were physically abused. The penitentiary is defunct, but its remaining buildings now house the Workhouse Arts Center, which is marking the centennial with “Women Now.” Most of the 11 artists are local, and many of their themes are feminist.
The most topical is Erin Devine’s audio-video montage of the Jan. 21 Women’s March, flanked by angry, funny protest posters collected from marchers. Natalie Wood contributed two portraits of revolutionary women, cut into whitened cardboard to reveal brown images below.
Several artists are showing variations on familiar work. Helen Frederick’s installation of hair, flowers and images of a falling woman echoes one recently at Brentwood Arts Exchange. Linn Meyers’s piece features, on a smaller scale, the tight swirls and half-visible circles of her epic wall drawing now at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Christie Neptune’s video tracks a woman’s form while hinting at her inner life, the same strategy Neptune has demonstrated at Hamiltonian Gallery.
Emily Francisco’s novel “Ocular Harpsichord” also involves video, but it’s a live feed from 12 cameras, each activated by a different key. The images, which pop up on quadrants of three low-def monitors, reveal the gallery and the player in an intentionally fragmented, ambiguous way. On this instrument, there is no perfect chord.
Women Now On view through April 9 at Workhouse Arts Center, 9601 Ox Rd., Lorton. 703-495-0001. workhousearts.org.
Neither technique nor outlook links the pictures of Mary Armstrong and Phillip Adams, on display together in Cross MacKenzie Gallery’s “Dreamscapes.” But both artists do make landscapes that are airy and open, while also having a tactile quality.
Painting with oils mixed with wax, Armstrong uses a midair perspective that simulates floating, and depicts sea, earth and sky so diffused by mist that the views become nearly abstract. Adams uses charcoal (occasionally supplemented with pencil) to draw photorealist scenes of ice and rock, into which he inserts a single whimsical element rendered with acrylic pigment.
Adams’s painstaking compositions, inspired by photographs but drawn freehand, consist of thousands of black and gray lines. Armstrong’s paintings are looser, yet employ scratching to reveal areas of underpainting and yield pinkish-white highlights. At close range, both artists’ works appear intensely worked.
The fundamental difference is that Adams is a joker. His landscapes are punctuated with items such as a swing, an inflated clown and a flock of pink flamingos. Whereas Armstrong seeks the sublime, Adams prefers the ironic.
Dreamscapes: Landscapes by Mary Armstrong & Phillip Adams On view through April 6 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.