Foon Sham, "Canyon of Salt." Hickory and salt, 35 x 88 x 72 in. On view at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center through Dec. 14, 2014. (Courtesy of American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center/Courtesy of American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center)

For decades, the trend in American sculpture has been toward the big and brawny, and often the industrial. Recent showcases by the Washington Sculptors Group have illustrated an alternate path, with lots of delicate, nature-inspired work. That continues in the WSG show “Sculpture Now 2014” — at the American University Museum — which includes pieces that evoke nests, roots and branches. But that doesn’t mean all 17 participants have renounced the power of scale.

The selection is arrayed in a relatively small but two-story area that suits towering items such as Carol Brown Goldberg’s “Secret Totem,” a 10-foot-high figure in red-painted bronze whose head whimsically takes the form of an electrical socket. Garrett Strang’s spindly “Nightwatch” is almost as tall, and there’s a large painted-steel root structure by Dalya Luttwak.

Among the works that repurpose natural materials: Mike Shaffer’s cage-like assemblage of red-painted branches; Elizabeth Burger’s tumbleweed covered in yellow paper; and Lynda Smith-Bugge’s “English Ivy Cradled in Cherry,” which contrasts raw and shaped wood. Man-made products emulate nature in c.l.bigelow’s “nest #23,” encircled by copper pipe; Julie Zirlin’s “Detail, Waves,” which stacks rounds of elegantly mismatched stoneware; and Joel D’Orazio’s “Wall Urchin,” which appears biomorphic but is made of multihued plastic piping and tubing. Foon Sham’s salt-filled hickory construction is among the many pieces with a nest-like shape, but he calls it a canyon.

Goldberg’s “Secret Totem” may be the show’s most imposing entry, but the tallest is “Air Rights,” one of Greg Braun’s two wall-mounted, nearly flat pieces. Using paint, drywall and landscaping fabric, Braun challenges not nature, but painting and architecture. “Air Rights” is striped in orange, red and yellow, suggesting such post-painterly colorists as Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland. In Braun’s intriguing formulation, sculpture is something that defines space but doesn’t necessarily occupy it.

Sculpture Now 2014 On view through Dec. 14 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202-885-1300. www.american.edu/museum.

Joan Konkel, "Golden Parachute," on view at Zenith Gallery through Dec. 6, 2014. (Courtesy of Joan Konkel/Courtesy of Joan Konkel)
Joan Konkel

Local artist Joan Konkel, too, makes low-relief sculpture that has some of the attributes of painting. The works in “Master of Illusion,” at Zenith Salon, actually begin with painted canvas. Atop that, Konkel layers both aluminum and fiberglass mesh, sometimes rumpled or scrunched. Many incorporate brushed-aluminum bands, pushing them further into the realm of sculpture. Yet Konkel also has worked in fashion design, and the suspended elements in her compositions suggest the draping of stylish dresses. And parts of her artworks, she notes, are stitched together.

Color has always been important to Konkel’s style, whether painted in place or conjured fleetingly by the way light plays across and through the layers of mesh. Pieces such as “Golden Parachute” are keyed to a single hue, but recently the artist has added more variety. “Ode to Joy” is a dance of bright reds, oranges and yellows, highlighted by paler greens. Such an array is not necessary, however, to make Konkel’s sculptures shimmer. When the light hits them just right, they all generate rainbows.

Master of Illusion: Through the Mediums of Joan Konkel On view through Dec. 6 at Zenith Gallery Salon, 1429 Iris St. NW. 202-783-2963. www.zenithgallery.com.

Photobook

The idea of “Photobook” seems simple: Display photographs alongside volumes in which they’ve been published. But the seven-artist show, at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions, is more complicated, because the books employ divergent and sometimes unconventional formats.

Kristin Gudbrandsdottir’s “Faces of the Fallen,” for example, multiplies a single black-and-white image of Arlington National Cemetery into a complex array of panels, cut and fanned into a 3-D construction. Tatiana Shukhin’s picture of an Italian building is one of many that have been incorporated into “Florentine Pages,” which collages drawings, woodcuts and text with degraded photographic images. And the twinned photos in Leda Black’s “Mimesis,” although not visually altered, have been assembled into an accordion-like foldout book of thick, single-image pages.

The other entries take a more traditional approach, at least in printing and binding. Anna Agoston’s “Untitled” consists of macro-lens images of twigs, stems and such. Jay Turner Frey Seawell’s “National Trust” contrasts scenes of Washington’s Greco-Roman temples of democracy with images of reporters and politicians framed by the lights and cameras of mass-media spectacle. With the stark color vignettes of “Briar Patch,” Jordan Baumgarten depicts a west Philadelphia neighborhood that feels potentially violent. Luke Strosnider’s “I Wish You Where Here,” named for an apparently misspelled postcard he found in Amsterdam, contemplates the gaps between traveler and resident, art space and everyday place. His Holland may not be as personalized as Shukhin’s Italy, but all of these photos show a singular viewpoint.

Photobook On view through Dec. 19 at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. www.vividsolutionsgallery.com.

Roberto Bocci

No other rail system in the world looks like Washington’s Metro, yet its distinctive design doesn’t overpower. In fact, it functions as a sort of stage set for everyday life, a quality emphasized by the panoramic photographs of Roberto Bocci’s “Metrorail.” The Heurich Gallery show divides interior and exterior views of the Metro system into panels to showcase horizontal elements — long platforms, multi-car trains — as well as motion and contrast. The train in “Metrorail, Pentagon” shifts from stationary to mobile in the three frames on the right, while “Metrorail, Rosslyn” is divided almost evenly between shadow and light.

The Italian-born Bocci, who teaches at Georgetown University, switches to a vertical orientation to portray an escalator at Gallery Place/Chinatown. He also presents a video piece that collages moving and still images, mostly from Gallery Place and Dupont Circle. But the wide-screen panoramas are the most striking and, it seems, the most apt. Their dimensions, after all, resemble those of a train.

Roberto Bocci: Metrorail On view through Dec. 9 at Heurich Gallery, 505 Ninth St. NW. 202-223-1626. www.downtowndc.org/go/heurich-gallery or www.efronart.com/news.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.