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In the galleries: Pink makes you think at OAS Art Museum of the Americas

Carolina Mayorga. “Cambuche Party,” 2019. (Craig Garrett/Carolina Mayorga/Art Museum of the Americas)

Posing in photographic vignettes as various female archetypes, Carolina Mayorga once assumed the identity of Edith Piaf, whose signature song is “La Vie en Rose.” But that’s not the only source for the dominant color in “Pink Ranchos and Other Ephemeral Zip Codes,” Mayorga’s show at the OAS Art Museum of the Americas.

The Colombia-bred D.C. artist explored the museum’s permanent collection and has displayed her favorites in a second-floor gallery. Alongside Mayorga drawings that comment on the pictures are Beatriz Briceño’s oil of pink mannequins on an assembly line and Ignacio Iturria’s landscape painted on corrugated cardboard.

Mayorga combines these precedents in her main-floor show, which opens with an array of miniature shacks made of cardboard and painted pink. Inspired by the tumbledown “ranchos” of an impoverished region in her birth country, the hovels contain tiny screens that play a video seen on larger monitors in the next room. It shows a pair of giant, spike-heeled pink boots that menace paper-doll people.

Pink aestheticizes difficult subjects, Mayorga noted while at a preview of the show. Thus the bubblegum-hued light that bathes a modified piano with six unmarked keys that actuate recorded voices rather than musical notes. The words are from testimony before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The final gallery features Mayorga’s version of a Colombian children’s game. A video instructs visitors how to construct an origami house of pink paper, then crush it and toss it into a pink box. The prize is supposed to be one square foot of one of those ephemeral Zip codes, but the artist designed the game to be unwinnable. In Mayorga’s rose-tinted vision, pink doesn’t mean easy.

“Integration,” Heloisa Escudero’s Otis Street Arts Project installation, isn’t keyed to a single color. But it does feature “Blue Shrine,” which offers azure light, water in various vessels and candles to burn after experiencing rejection. “Blue is very healing,” the artist said during a tour of the show.

Healing is one goal of the interactive pieces, which the Brazilian-born local artist calls “modernized rituals.” Rendered on walls and occasionally the floor, squiggly shapes denote fears while straight lines represent control. (There are enough neat edges that Escudero was left with a ball of the masking tape she used to paint them. It’s on display, too.)

Many of the show’s invocations are specific to the artist, and its self-help exercises seem more playful than therapeutic. But maybe Escudero doesn’t really want to straighten out “Integration” participants. “You can’t control life too much,” she said.

Carolina Mayorga: Pink Ranchos and Other Ephemeral Zip Codes Through May 19 at the OAS Art Museum of the Americas, 201 18th St. NW.

Heloisa Escudero: Integration Through April 27 at Otis Street Arts Project, 3706 Otis St., Mount Rainier, Md. Escudero will give a show-closing performance at 2 p.m. on April 27.

Micheline Klagsbrun

Taking cues from Greco-Roman mythology, Micheline Klagsbrun often depicts women transforming into trees or flowers. Her new project also focuses on metamorphosis, but the protagonist is a goddess in astral form: Venus, the planet identified as both the morning and evening star. The D.C. artist’s Studio Gallery show, “Transit of Venus,” follows a cycle that beguiled sky-watchers in many ancient cultures.

Klagsbrun began by consulting a ledger of Venus’s 1874 transit across the sun, adding details from Mayan astronomy, celestial navigation and art history. Seashell forms make reference to Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” in which she stands on a giant scallop. This prompts a possible interpretation of the planet’s cycle as pregnancy and birth. The goddess sometimes appears in human form, as a dancer in the heavens, while an old sailing ship navigates her realm.

The artist is known for a mixed-media approach that expresses the fluidity of existence. Most of these pictures are cyanotypes (or blueprints) whose ghostly whites on night-sky blues are supplemented by pencil, ink and paint. Liquid gestures suggest milky ways across the universe, while layered images represent creation’s complexity. In Klagsbrun’s world, there’s always more beyond the visible, and something that’s about to change.

Micheline Klagsbrun: Transit of Venus Through April 27 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW.

Jeff Duka

In one of the two self-portraits in Jeff Duka’s “Self and Others,” his face is reduced to planes of white and gray, set off by a purple shirt and a dark green backdrop. The method used in the Reston artist’s Olly Olly Art show recalls the work of German artist Gerhard Richter, who blurs the details in his photo-derived paintings. But where Richter works in shades of gray, Duka is concerned with color.

The selection includes a large pastel abstraction, a mirrored box in which viewers can frame their own faces, and that other self-image, streamlined and rendered in pencil. But most of the pieces are soft-detailed portraits painted on translucent vellum, which are mounted over rectangles of a single hue applied directly to the wall. A few of the indistinct visages are punctuated by small, pixel-like squares, but the more striking aspect of Duka’s work is the way the submerged color glows through the vellum. The color below and the face above appear to meld somewhere in the air, between the wall and the picture. The effort to integrate the two levels seems to mirror the attempt to decipher another person.

Jeff Duka: Self and Others Through April 27 at Olly Olly Art, 10417 Main St., Second Floor, Fairfax.

Mills Brown

Cutting and pasting images from design magazines into collage-paintings, Mills Brown takes a surrealist romp through decorative and architectural motifs. The local artist’s Latela Art Gallery show is called “Interiors,” but several of the largest works feature shards of building facades, arranged into semi-symmetrical schemes. Other pictures depict ghostly figures, often children, that partly merge into wallpaper patterns.

The domestic scenes include the quietly uncanny “Conversation,” a painting in which two potted plants sit side by side, one on a stool and the other held by a person functioning as furniture. The show’s other meaning of “interior” refers to sunken chambers partly visible below the picture’s surface. “Nest” is an egg-shaped assemblage whose small window reveals a dried honeycomb inside the piece. Like Duka, Brown positions intriguing, half-hidden phenomena between the viewer and the wall.

Mills Brown: Interiors Through April 27 at Latela Art Gallery, 716 Monroe St. NE, Studio #27.