The world looked different in the 1970s. Shadows were black, but most everything else was gray, and white tendrils were as likely to be tobacco smoke as sunlight. This was, of course, the palette of newspaper photography then; movies and TV abandoned black-and-white during the 1960s, before Barbara Klemm became a photographer for the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Klemm continued shooting in black-and-white long after the ’70s; the most recent image in “Light and Dark: Photographs From Germany” is from 2008. But the photographer’s first decade on the job is central to this exhibition, which is split between the Goethe-Institut and the nearby Leica Store.
The Leica Store is showing mostly Klemm’s portraits of artists, writers and filmmakers, from visiting luminaries (Alfred Hitchcock, Andy Warhol) to representatives of the home team (Gerhard Richter, Rainer Werner Fassbinder). These are fine environmental portraits, but somehow Nadine Gordimer seems less central to Klemm’s work than Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German boss Erich Honecker, greeting each other with a full-on socialist smooch in 1979.
Honecker was still in power in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down. Klemm documented that upheaval and its aftermath, but her most telling photographs of Berlin and Germany are from the era when both were divided: a bleak stretch of deserted Friedrichstrasse, now a bustling avenue; a warm East Berlin welcome for African American activist Angela Davis in 1973, shortly after her release from prison; “guest workers” in Frankfurt in 1971, eager to participate in the economic boom of a country that wanted them as laborers, not citizens. In these instants of history, the starkness and immediacy of Klemm’s style ideally matches the subjects.
Barbara Klemm: Light and Dark: Photographs From Germany On view through Feb. 27 at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW. 202-289-1200. www.goethe.de/en. Leica Store, 977 F St. NW. 202-787-5900. www.leicastoredc.com./gallery.
So what’s happening in Brooklyn to make the once-mocked New York borough a hipster domain? Well, in a painting Kristen Liu calls “Bushwick,” there’s a party that features nudity, projectile vomiting, a tank of nitrous oxide and a little S&M. That vignette may not show a typical Brooklyn bash, but it is characteristic of Liu’s work at Adah Rose Gallery. The California-bred, Tarantino-inspired Brooklynite depicts sex and violence in buildings as diverse as log cabins and hot-sheet hotels.
Executed in a naive but detailed style, Liu’s wood-panel paintings are hard-edged and boldly colored. They’re also coated in clear resin, which makes them look like consumer products packaged in transparent blister packs. (Liu’s passions include Polly Pocket dolls, which originally came in pocket-size cases.) Among the vividly artificial hues are a stabbing victim’s hot-pink blood and golden glitter decorating the sides of some panels. As a child-like vision of the adult world, these pictures are disturbing. Yet Liu’s own outlook seems more playful than alarmed.
Liu’s “Meat Farm” shows bear/pig-like creatures awaiting slaughter. Jim Condron goes further here, including the hide of a small animal in one of his collage-paintings. The Baltimore artist combines found objects with heavily impastoed paint, suggesting a mashup of Robert Rauschenberg and Willem de Kooning. Liu and Condron both employ neon-bright colors, but her cartoonish scenes and his unpredictable pileups offer divergent visions of anarchy.
Your Memories, Your Sentiments, Your Wishes, Your Secrets: Jim Condron and Kristen Liu On view through Feb. 28 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington, 301-922-0162. www.adahrosegallery.com.
Each of the three artists in “Unmapped,” at the Brentwood Art Exchange, has a distinct approach. Yet their semi-abstract styles often overlap or echo one another’s. Pat Goslee’s paintings, Sally Resnik Rockriver’s glass sculpture and Ellyn Weiss’s mixed-media work, which bridges painting and sculpture, are rich in contrasts — packed with organic forms and layered in appearance — and often also in fact.
Of the three, only Goslee uses straight-edged geometric shapes, but they’re countered by rounded, flowing and sometimes hazy elements. Rockriver contrasts smooth, clear glass with rough and often dark areas that can resemble rock or pumice. Weiss makes spirals of colored wax, which protrude from the canvas in the “Disruptions” series or are cut into cross-sections that evoke models of muscle and skin. All of the artists draw on nature, although Rockriver’s shells, geodes and fossil-like figures appear more literal.
The show’s title refers to regions between different varieties of existence, which go unseen because they’re in flux or microscopic — or imaginary. Rockriver has said she is intrigued by the possible geology of unexplored planets, and Weiss has imagined creatures that might be found as Earth’s poles warm. Rather than portray the world around them, these artists use their knowledge of it to map fantastical universes of their own.
Unmapped: Pat Goslee, Sally Resnik Rockriver and Ellyn Weiss On view through Feb. 28 at Brentwood Art Exchange, 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood. 301-277-2863. www.arts.pgparks.com/Page19056.aspx.
Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei famously attacked cultural heirlooms with Dada-inspired impiety, dipping Han and Qing Dynasty pots into vats of industrial paint. It’s not clear whether artist Hyun Kyung Yoon was delighted or distressed by Ai’s antics, but she’s responded with some splattered ceramics of her own, now on display at Cross MacKenzie Gallery. “Why, Ai Wei Wei?” features a dozen newly made off-white jars, seemingly dripping with brightly stained glazes. The result is less provocative than Ai’s work, but more beautiful. Rather than acts of vandalism, Yoon’s color-splashed vessels are an elegant merger of the American pop-art palette and the Asian aesthetic known in Japanese as “wabi-sabi” (rough simplicity).
The show also features Yoon’s “Indeterminate Lines” series of wall-mounted ceramic squiggles. The artist, who divides her time between Richmond and South Korea, compares these 3-D gestures to calligraphy, but they also resemble vines or sprouts. Some of the twisting strands end in pod-like shapes or bristling spines, while others culminate in forms that look a bit like shower heads. Made in a range of subdued colors and a variety of finishes, the ceramic brushstrokes look less drawn than grown. Yoon’s “lines” are as distant from traditional pottery as the vivid hues that embellish her Ai-style jars.
Hyun Kyung Yoon: Why, Ai Wei Wei? On view through Feb. 27 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. www.crossmackenzie.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.