The work in “Linear Function,” a three-artist show at Carroll Square Gallery, is stronger on line than functionality. Alex Mayer’s paired contributions are a “white stack” that looks a bit like furniture and a “black hat” that looks exactly like a black hat, except that it’s made of painted plywood and is 60 inches in diameter. If these unadorned objects aren’t exactly Platonic ideals, they do possess an austerity that’s more philosophical than practical. The Washington conceptual sculptor is the only one of the trio to forgo color, so his work is the most minimalist in a room where nothing approaches the ornate.
Nick Primo builds pillars and shelf-like constructions of ash and steel, which contrast slabs of glazed stoneware that are as lumpy as the wood and metal are sleek. The Baltimore artist also creates acrylic-and-graphite works he calls “architectural drawings,” some of which do hint at the volume and contours of possibly buildable structures. Primo’s simpler drawings, however, emphasize such elementary shapes as trapezoids and pennant-shaped triangles, and they rely primarily on their vividly mottled aqua, green and red.
That makes them a neat fit with Douglas Witmer’s vibrant abstractions, which surround a bar or block of bright color with areas of streaky gray gesso, ranging from off-white to near-black. Each canvas features a candy flavor — lemon, orange or lime — whose radiance animates the subdued gesso frame like sunlight through a doorway. Elsewhere, the Philadelphia artist executes stripe paintings that employ other hues or even two bands of color in a single composition. Grouped together here, though, these five pictures attain a sort of perfection — if not of line or function, then simply of Witmer’s method.
Linear Function On view through April 24 at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW. 202-234-5601. www.hemphillfinearts.com .
One of the subjects of oil painter Monica Stroik’s Artisphere show is the Rosslyn neighborhood that hosts the arts center, which is set to close at the end of June. But “Infinitesimal” consists of several series, including a set of lovely little “Eye Smears” that recall the cooler side of abstract expressionism. There also are stylized interiors, hard-edged and unpeopled, some in bold colors but others left largely unpainted to reveal the wood surface on which they were made.
The paintings of Artisphere’s environs feature titles such as “Facing East” and show the Rosslyn skyline or the orderly city across the Potomac. Stroik’s grids and diagrams demonstrate how planners and architects impose geometry on natural landscapes. Yet the artist asserts the primacy of nature in pictures that reduce towering buildings to white outlines on a dappled blue sky. Buildings are temporary; the heavens eternal.
Monica Stroik: Infinitesimal On view through April 25 at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-875-1100. www.artisphere.com.
Photograms and chemigrams are both forms of camera-less photography yet have a very different feel. Natalie Cheung illustrates the contrast with “Facsimile,” at Morton Fine Art. The smaller photograms, created by placing objects on photo paper and then exposing it, are hard-edged, black-and-white and essentially tidy. The chemigrams, painted with chemicals on photo paper, are larger and looser. The billowing black and red-brown forms suggest ink painting but also, at their most ominous, blood-
spatter patterns. One piece resembles a razor blade, dripping with black plasma. Even if it may not be what the Washington artist intended, these pictures are beguilingly dark, fluid and strange.
The abstract oils of Andrei Petrov’s “B.C./A.D.,” also at Morton, evoke glaciation, erosion and water seeping through rock. Such associations fit the Washington-born New York artist’s method: He both builds and subtracts from his paintings, scraping and sanding to achieve a hard-worked surface and compositions that feature seeming cracks and crevices. The colors include some bright blues but are mostly shades that suggest minerals. Although “Swiss Bliss” somewhat resembles a landscape, most of the works lack that picture’s sense of distance. Whatever it is that Petrov depicts, he puts the viewer very close to its center.
Facsimile: Alternative Process Photographs by Natalie Cheung and B.C./A.D.: Nature-Based Abstract Oil Paintings by Andrei Petrov On view through April 16 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. www.mortonfineart.com.
Franz Kafka’s parable “Before the Law” is about a man who never attains the law, although why he wants it, or even what law it is, is never explained. Inspired by the 100-year-old tale, Jane Carver and Raúl Romero have devised a mixed-media work that’s equally open to interpretation. At Transformer, the Philadelphia artists have enlisted antique video monitors and cassette players to produce an ambiguous experience.
The video, collaged by Romero, includes old family footage as well as newly filmed material. Carver’s music is delicate and sometimes droning, influenced by the diaphonic singing of Bulgarian women’s choirs. (She sings with a New York-based one.) The images can’t be synced to the recorded music, so everyone’s experience of the piece will be at least slightly different. This intentional lack of control may be in homage to Kafka, chronicler of men manipulated by inexplicable forces. But the audio-video piece’s reliance on the random is more in the spirit of John Cage.
Before the Law On view through April 25 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102. www.transformerdc.org.
Two gifts from the Andy Warhol Foundation — one of photographs and one of screenprints — make up much of “Luminaries: Portraits From the GW Permanent Collection.” But the Luther W. Brady Gallery show isn’t all Warhol’s offhand snaps of celebs (Truman Capote, Mary Martin) or eccentrically embellished portraits of world leaders (including Queen Elizabeth II and a purple-faced Mao Zedong). Much more staid is a formal 1875 portrait of William Wilson Corcoran, whose namesake gallery is now part of George Washington University.
There also are several likenesses of George Washington himself, including one by folk artist Howard Finster in which the young George looks a bit like Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein. The off-campus subjects include Groucho Marx and Audrey Hepburn (in portraits by influential commercial photographer Philippe Halsman) and a likeness of Diane Arbus by Joe Shannon. With an irony Warhol might have appreciated, the local artist captured the noted photographer in watercolor.
Luminaries: Portraits From the GW Permanent Collection On view through April 24 at George Washington University’s Luther W. Brady Gallery, 805 21st St. NW, Second Floor. 202-994-1525. www.gwu.edu/~bradyart.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.