Although inspired by places where people go to imbibe as they daub, “Sip and Paint: Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ ” isn’t simply a spoof of what organizer Thomas Drymon calls “recreational painting.”
The D.C. Arts Center show is also an exercise in theme-and-variation, and an opportunity for 34 artists to critique a work (and a painter) that has gone from obscure to unavoidable — and maybe even annoying. (In the very long title of her handsome, if not especially radical, reworking, Rachel England calls herself an artist “who doesn’t much care for the original.”)
Unsurprisingly, many of the artists here view “The Starry Night” through the lenses of their own style or experience. Kanchan Balse’s “Takoma Night” melds Van Gogh’s and his own window views. Dave Mordini arrays plastic 3-D prints atop a relief version of the painting carved into fiberboard. Dafna Steinberg’s “Do You Like Art?” puts a small reproduction of the picture behind a series of phone texts with a potential date.
Several of the artists reduce the picture to its stars. Dwayne Butcher paints seven of them in a black field, and Steve Wanna’s scattered black dots represent a map of the stars Van Gogh would have seen when he painted. One of the starkest and most striking contributions is Wayson R. Jones’s near-abstract “Giant Angry Stars,” rendered in grainy black-and-white. Far less minimally, Sondra N. Arkin uses images from the Hubble Telescope to make an intergalactic fantasia no one of Van Gogh’s age could have imagined.
Among the cheekier entries are those of Laura Elkins, who dangles a toilet brush in front of her painting; Kristy Simmons, who turns the famed picture into a sort of 3-D postcard; and Ira Tattleman, who incorporates shards of a “Starry Night” mug. If Van Gogh’s renown is now shatterproof, at least today’s struggling artists can express their frustration by smashing something from the gift shop.
Sip and Paint: Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” On view through May 29 at D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. 202-462-7833. dcartscenter.org.
Someday, the technology of “Sentient Chamber” might qualify as architecture. For now, the installation at the National Academy of Sciences seems more like art: beautiful, intriguing and without apparent practicality.
The structure was designed by a multidisciplinary team led by Canadian architect Philip Beesley. The group’s statement calls the thing a “free-standing pavilion,” but it can be just as easily seen as a grove of cyber-trees. Some 20 metallic posts, floor-to-ceiling and tightly grouped, support LEDs, plastic fronds and liquid-filled vials. Sensors react to people who pass near or through the technological thicket, triggering lights, movement and metallic music.
The algorithms that produce these responses are said to “mimic curiosity” and be so complex that they essentially never repeat themselves. (In this, they’re like the ones Leo Villareal employs to drive his unpredictable light pieces.) The idea is that this semi-conscious edifice might lead to buildings that react to, and learn from, their inhabitants. The creators even suggest that tomorrow’s residences and office blocks might “care about us.”
In fiction, artificial smarts and feelings usually don’t work out for the best. Yet “Sentient Chamber” is a long way from passing the Turing test. Within its metal and acrylic chassis, computers cue buzzing, blinking and murmuring. The effect is beguiling, but more akin to wind through branches than a chat with C-3PO.
Also at NCAS, “Large Hadron Collider” is a series of seven big renderings of particle accelerators. Jonathan Feldschuh, a data scientist and artist, drew the massive machinery in pencil on Mylar and then added acrylic washes. The light-colored, freely applied pigment resembles watercolor, and its drips and splashes add an abstract feel. They also evoke the subatomic action the devices are designed to observe.
Feldschuh made the images roughly twice as wide as tall in homage to CinemaScope, once the preferred format for Hollywood epics. But even though these vignettes might look like storyboards for a sci-fi flick, they show a place where science trumps fiction.
Sentient Chamber and Jonathan Feldschuh: Large Hadron Collider On view through May 31 and July 18, respectively, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W. 202-334-2415. cpnas.org/exhibitions.
After a stint in Washington, Cuban-born French artist Rafael Torres Correa is heading home. As a farewell gesture, he and Cross MacKenzie Gallery are presenting “Paysage Expose, Paysage Figurant.” The show’s large abstractions contrast wet and dry, soft and hard. Correa paints atop tile or brick surfaces, and allows their rectangular shapes to imprint on the mottled, free-form compositions. His mostly blue pictures suggest oceans and atolls; others have rich mineral tones of rust, ivory and platinum.
Two of the paintings resemble red brick walls, and all of them have areas that evoke the surfaces of metal and ceramics. Playing on that affinity, Torres has painted a series of individual tiles. These elegant squares stand alone but also look as though they’re ready to be assembled into a larger whole.
Cross MacKenzie always has pottery on display and, in addition to Torres’s work, is now showing Virginia Pates’s porcelain vessels. From one angle, these are in the rustic, intentionally imperfect style known in Japanese as “wabi.” Yet they contain surprises, both visible and not. Pates sometimes incorporates a bit of earth from a specific location, such as James Madison’s Montpelier, that provides the piece’s title. Underneath, the bowls and vases have elaborately scalloped bases, and the inside may be glazed with a vivid, gem-like green or blue. Pates’s creations have as many personalities as they have facets.
Rafael Torres Correa: Paysage Expose, Paysage Figurant and Virginia Pates: Ceramics On view through June 1 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.
Among fictional animals, the most famous Olivia is probably the piglet chronicled in a series of children’s books. But that anthropomorphic critter has some competition from Maryland artist Virginia Warwick’s Olivia the Sea Turtle, the sometime resident of “Unexplored Nursery.” The installation at VisArts at Rockville is a safe if imaginary space for the young of the species, which face many hazards in the wild.
At the center is a cradle full of egglike styrofoam balls, surrounded by dangling simulated jellyfish. Everything is bathed in blue light for an underwater vibe, which might be stronger if the room, which has a glass wall on one side, were less open. The effect is only moderately aquatic but is surely more evocative when Warwick is there in her turtle costume. (She performs at 2 p.m. on May 22.
Virginia Warwick: Unexplored Nursery On view through May 29 at Common Ground Gallery, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.