Artistic collaborators Susan Eder and Craig Dennis specialize in near-abstract patterns, but they don’t make them. The Northern Virginia photographers find them in nature — gazing at clouds, bananas or other commonplace things through a macro lens. The diptychs in “Hide & Seek,” their show at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, look at butterflies from both sides. The two-panel pictures contrast the undersides of the insects’ wings, which feature mottled browns and eye-shaped ovals as camouflage, with tops of silky blue or red. The vividly single-hued wings are used to attract mates, but when photographed and enlarged dramatically, they resemble color-field paintings.
Eder also does solo work, such as the “Mutations” the gallery is showing. One set depicts four-, five- and six-leaf clovers, each biological curiosity endowed with authenticity by such little flaws as small holes and brown spots. The clovers are shown in glass vessels, while Eder arrays orchids in front of black backdrops, highlighting their voluptuous pinkness. Aside from arranging them in pairs or groups, Eder doesn’t manipulate the orchid images.
Four-leaf clovers are natural phenomena, but the most unusual orchids (called peloric mutations) result from cloning or genetic alteration. Magnified and isolated, they are both beautiful and bizarre. Eder simply observes, but the greenhouse alchemists who beget such blooms engage in strange magic.
Susan Eder/Craig Dennis: Mutations/Hide & Seek On view through April 4 at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW. 202-328-0088. www.marshamateykagallery.com.
In 1927, Philip and Mary Rosner signed a lease for a space at Baltimore’s Belair Market. That scrap of paper was a practical matter then, but now, some 90 years later, it has become a metaphor, or a fragment of one. Ruth Lozner’s “Legacies,” at Hillyer Art Space, assembles specific artifacts to conjure a general impression of past lives and dispersed communities. The local artist works with what’s left to commemorate what’s lost.
These combines are not in the style of Robert Rauschenberg’s, which are more absurd and very much of their Pop Art moment. Lozner prefers venerable domestic objects — shoes, a straight razor, a brittle baby dress — and timeworn hues. (She writes that she follows “in the traditions of surrealism and dada, with a back story of folk art.”) Some objects are repurposed, and new items may be added: A sideways ladder serves as a series of frames for found objects, and a plastic face mold creates an eerie note on top of a grandfather clock.
Lozner seldom trashes or transforms her materials, leaving intact their essential forms and qualities. Indeed, the actual content of the maps, postcards, class photos, report cards and, yes, market leases can be a little distracting. But the show’s overall effect is to powerfully evoke the ruthlessness of time.
Ruth Lozner: Legacies On view through March 28 at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW. 202-338-0680. www.hillyerartspace.org.
On one side of Cross MacKenzie Gallery, a long bench holds more than 50 objects, which clay artist Zirma Beiner calls “Tools for No Purpose.” Some of them have knobs, tines or other parts that make them look vaguely functional, but others appear more organic, suggesting gourds or cones. To add to the perplexity, the so-called tools are all made of red-tan clay, but coated with a glaze that has been sandblasted to a seemingly creamy finish, suggesting cream-cheese icing. It’s as if the artist raided the kitchen drawers of a psychedelic cartoon.
In the front window are two hulking clay blobs — “blob” is the gallery’s term for them — whose contours look soft and random but whose surfaces are hard and glossy. These are the only standalone items. The other, smaller pieces are carefully arranged so that they look like a series of miniature pavilions or 3-D glyphs, spelling out some unreadable word. The blend of organic and faux-functional continues in one set of silver-gray objects that might be roosters in the process of turning into pitchers, or vice versa.
The show also includes a few drawings, mostly in gray and black but sometimes with smears of yellow. These works also jumble tool shapes and architectural motifs for purely whimsical aims. Whether employing clay or lines, Beiner crafts stuff whose only purpose is play.
Zirma Beiner: Tools for No Purpose On view through March 31 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. www.crossmackenzie.com.
Zenith Gallery’s 37th-anniversary show “Culture Cluster” features no fewer than 95 artists, including three who are new to the stable: painter Tony Henson, ceramicist Hadrian Mendoza and sculptor Warren Muller. Henson’s abstract-expressionist abstractions are vibrant and dynamic, with colors and gestures that evoke fire. Mendoza, who came to Washington from the Philippines, makes vases with elegant contours if unlikely shapes, such as a seeming stack of three off-kilter boxes, rendered in one clay form. His “Carabao” is a deconstructed water buffalo, its parts also arranged in a sort of pile.
Muller gathers found objects, often metallic and sometimes heavy, into improbably weightless collages. The assembled items are laced with light fixtures, turning them into chandeliers of a sort. But Muller doesn’t go for symmetry or, aside from the lights, delicacy. His work is industrial and chaotic, with just a dash of ethereality.
Culture Cluster On view through March 28 at Zenith Salon, 1429 Iris St. NW. 202-783-2963. www.zenithgallery.com.
Of the 30 artists represented in Watergate Gallery’s “Food for the Body, Food for the Soul,” a few went straight for the edible. There are apples and tomatoes and — in a stylistically eclectic Jean Eckert painting — cubist wine bottles next to more realistically rendered berries and lemons. Other pieces are less literally foodie. Alfredo Ratinoff’s ornate terra-cotta urn could be for wine or just decoration, and those crinkly circles in Alice Kreese’s lively, layered monoprint might represent snowflakes or cupcake wrappers.
Two of the standouts are abstract and glimmering. Phyllis Jaffe contributed a painting whose dollops of thick acrylic pigment suggest a jeweled surface; Fabiano Amin’s “Agua & Sol” contrasts gold circles and blue drops to evoke sun and sea. Much earthier are the papier-mache slabs on which Doug Dupin has planted rounds of sprouting rye, radish and duckweed. These “Crop Circles” are not the show’s prettiest pictures, but their earthiness is satisfying.
Food for the Body, Food for the Soul On view through March 31 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW. 202-338-4488. www.watergategalleryframedesign.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.