The smallest universes in “Building Worlds,” a five-artist show at Greater Reston Arts Center, are the miniature gardens Timothy Harper places inside found containers such as a lantern or a gumball machine. The largest cosmos is the main room of the gallery itself, transformed by Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann’s site-specific translucent paintings, which cover the windows so they appear to be stained glass.
The show groups work by artists who draw on science, fantasy and science fiction. It also addresses recent art-world themes such as cultural identity, technological obsolescence and environmental destruction.
The most sci-fi-minded participants are Michael Booker, whose drawings and collages depict a utopia based on African heritage and African American history; and Rachel Guardiola, whose photographic and 3-D collages collect artifacts from an apparently extraterrestrial wilderness. Booker’s work features intricate detail and surreal juxtapositions. Guardiola’s draws from her scientific background, with a lab worker’s yellow rubber gloves as an unifying element.
Laura Beth Konopinski crafts self-contained dioramas, but these “biodomes” rely on her glassmaking skills and include human figures amid the nature imagery. Most of Harper’s constructions contain plants, but also mechanisms. In addition to incorporating outmoded devices such as a film projector and a Polaroid camera, his contraptions are music boxes, hand-cranked to recall an earlier technological era.
With their vivid hues, poured pigment and formidable size, Tzu-Lan Man’s paintings resemble abstract expressionist canvasses. But the artist also inserts realistic botanical motifs such as leaves, vines and blooms, while evoking a sense of place derived from her training in traditional Chinese landscapes. Although these pictures are more science than sci-fi, they conjure a cosmos that is uniquely Tzu-Lan Man’s.
Building Worlds Through Sept. 15 at Greater Reston Arts Center, 12001 Market St., Reston.
A grand interior contains the vast exterior of “Lone Prairie,” a sound and video installation in the rotunda of the Corcoran building. There’s no place to stand in the circular room that allows a complete view of the landscape — just as there wouldn’t be on the high plains of eastern Colorado, where the wintry-hued images were photographed.
The piece offers ever-shifting views of a land-art work made in 2015-16 by M12, an interdisciplinary arts collective based in the same region of Colorado. Placed in a former agricultural field, the original installation consisted of timber-frame structures. Their forms are geometric rather than practical, but their material is typical of buildings erected by early Euro-American settlers of the region.
Using ambient sound and fast- and slow-motion video, M12’s piece makes palpable the elements, including wind and snow, that flow into the prairie site. Viewers can walk through the experience or stand still as it twirls around them. The space is probably best entered alone, so as to be immersed in simulated solitariness.
Lone Prairie: Video Installation by M12 Through Sept. 9 at Corcoran School of the Arts & Design, George Washington University, 500 17th St. NW.
Jackie Hoysted and Akemi Maegawa made the objects on display in Betty Mae Kramer Gallery’s “Free Space,” but they didn’t create the art. That’s up to the visitor.
The show includes a few things that aren’t interactive, but the centerpieces are open to manipulation. Hoysted offers one of her “Mix ’n’ Match” sets of brightly colored disks that can be infinitely rearranged on wall-mounted panels. Maegawa provides four tables outfitted with bowls of tiny ceramic morsels, ready to be laid out in any imaginable pattern.
The disks are made of plastic and come in two sizes, so they can be arrayed to juxtapose both hue and scale. Otherwise, they’re essentially identical. The handmade morsels are available in just a few earthy colors, but a great variety of imperfectly rectangular shapes. If the contrast illustrates the difference between synthetic and natural, both Hoysted and Maegawa suggest processes of assembling, splicing and evolving. With these simple games, little worlds can be constructed.
Free Space Through Sept. 7 at Betty Mae Kramer Gallery, One Veterans Place, Silver Spring.
Rockville’s Compass Atelier, founded by Glen Kessler, teaches artists to paint realistically and with classical technique. Among the results are the mostly traditional pictures at the Athenaeum, where “Old School, New Concept” spotlights students from the atelier’s master artist program.
There’s just one portrait in the selection, and most of the other people depicted are incidental or obscured. Karash Payne portrays female swimmers, their bodies partly diffused by water. Elise Mahaffie intimately renders animals, notably a pair of buffalo. More typical are Pat Coates’s large fruit arrangement with shiny green apples, and Kathleen Carroll’s equally vivid green grapes, set off dramatically by a black backdrop. Alden Schofield uses black just as effectively in a lush sylvan scene whose shadowy palette is punctuated by glimmers of light. Such contrasts are muted in Ken Bachman’s moody depiction of a gray barn in a snowy setting.
Also in the show are a selection of Kessler artworks, which are less traditional in subject. The teacher paints and draws close-ups of toys and circuit boards, employing a narrow depth of field that suggests the pictures are modeled on photos. This isn’t the newest of concepts, but Kessler demonstrates that old-fashioned skills can fulfill up-to-date aims.
Old School, New Concept: The Compass Atelier Through Sept. 9 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria.
Few locals will struggle to identify the places Sam Kittner photographs. There’s the Lincoln Memorial, that’s the intersection of Seventh and H streets NW, and underneath the Fourth of July fireworks is the Treasury Building. The pictures in “A Broader Sense of Space,” at the Fred Schnider Gallery of Art, are very nearly postcard scenes. What distinguishes them from more conventional shots is the astute use of long exposures and panoramic formats. Familiar landmarks turn elastic, their hard angles going soft under scrutiny. Kittner’s no Salvador Dali, but he can make marble melt.
Sam Kittner: A Broader Sense of Space Through Sept. 9 at the Fred Schnider Gallery of Art, 888 N. Quincy St., Arlington.