There are few images more expansive than NASA photographs of outer space, and few more intimate than pictures of your home. William Newman partners the two in “Syzygy,” at the American University Museum. In 19 painting/photograph combines, he contrasts the cosmos and the farm — his country place in the Shenandoah Valley — while juxtaposing two elemental geometric forms, the circle and the square.
Newman, who taught at the Corcoran for 40 years, has a reason for being drawn to the conceptual. He has multiple sclerosis, which hampers his ability to work with his once-deft hands. Assistants execute his ideas, whether stainless-steel sculptures of rounded fruits and vegetables — two of those are here — or paintings of iconic spheres: the Earth, the moon, a navel orange, a yellow tennis ball. All these objects, however modest, suggest celestial orbs.
In astronomy, “syzygy” refers to the straight-line configuration of three bodies in a single gravitational system. Such an arrangement is as orderly as Newman’s works, which center a square painting atop a larger square photograph. The paintings are not always of perfectly round objects: They include a chubby Buddha face, a morning glory blossom and the eye of a hurricane. But the essential design is always the same; each “conjoined” piece suggests a universe of unvarying cycles and Platonic forms. By doing that with pictures from his life and environs, Newman presents a vision that’s both objective and personal.
Downstairs at the museum, Judy Byron’s “Continental Drift (Being Here and Being There)” is also personal, but not told in the first person. The local artist traveled to Brazil, China and Ghana, where she made photos she later translated into suites of colored-pencil drawings. Each of these groups of six horizontal drawings is shown with a vertical one that depicts a memory of home for women who emigrated to the D.C. area from these countries. An audio program mingles the expatriates’ remarks with the sound of waves.
The fragments of dialogue complement the drawings, which focus on snippets: the undulating design of a Brazilian pavement, a bilingual Chinese exit sign, the clenched-fist decal on a Ghanaian car. Byron likes to draw patterns, whether those of a grainy wooden door or a wall layered with stickers and painted text. But she leaves the larger motifs to the viewer’s interpretation.
On view through Aug. 17 at the American University Museum, Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, 202-885-1300, www.american.edu/museum.
The play is wordy as well as visual in “Altered Ego,” Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery’s selection of the remade and the remodeled. In the window, for example, is one of Donna McCullough’s two dresses made from antique oil cans. The brand? Wearwell.
If McCullough’s work relies on junk that’s now kind of rare, many of the six other artists use most ordinary stuff. Maria Karametou braids bobby pins, using them as a frame for a head-and-shoulders image. Brian Petro arranges such items as the boxes of animal crackers and Dots candies, sometimes by color, either in prints and as 3-D collages. Matt Hollis disassembles fake flowers and then arranges the petals in flowing curves that suggest Impressionist brushstrokes. Kim Boggs combines a skateboard and a viola, a mating that would have appealed to the Surrealists — if they’d had any idea what a skateboard was.
The individual ingredients may be small, but that doesn’t limit the scale. Gwendolyn Aqui-Brooks covers the back wall with a quilted urban scene, festooned with buttons and thread, and Lee Wheeler erects a tall scaffold with an Icarus-like figure at the top, clutching two feathers. In a room full of departures from the everyday, his is the most potentially dramatic.
Altered Ego. On view through Aug. 23 at Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, 1632 U St. NW; 202-483-8600; www.smithcenter.org/arts-healing/joan-hisaoka-art-gallery.html.
Spread across 20 subtly illuminated shadowboxes, Melanie Kehoss’s “Glow Tableaux” is a frisky history of American rituals and traditions. The cultural lessons are rendered in multicolored paper, cut into silhouetted vignettes and lighted from inside by LEDs. The boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and usually feature a succession of thematically linked scenes.
The artist doesn’t go for the obvious events and phenomena, unless it’s to reveal their origins: “All Souls” illustrates some European observances related to what’s known to Americans as Halloween, while “Last March” portrays the African basis for New Orleans funeral parades. Not all of Kehoe’s subjects are venerable folkways. Two of her case studies focus on contemporary cellphone-camera etiquette, although “Selfie Evolution” begins way back with the myth of Narcissus. Most of these tales need the paragraphs of explanation Kehoss provides, but she’s capable of making a point just with simple visual information. “A Brief History of the Tomato,” for example, shifts from green at the top to red at the bottom, turning riper as it goes.
Melanie Kehoss: Glow Tableaux. On view through Aug. 23 at the Mezz Gallery, Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-875-1100; www.artisphere.com.
The creatures range from sleek to whimsical in “Zenith Zoo: Artistic Interpretations of Our Planetary Partners,” the 10-artist show at Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space. There are some paintings in the selection, including Ron Schwerin’s portrait of an alabaster bathing beauty, sprawled on a deck, who happens to be a bulldog. But most of the highlights are sculptural.
David Bacharach’s raven, made mostly of metal strips, is both expressionist and seemingly aerodynamic. Donna McCullough also renders a bird in pieces, but her chicken is made of thick slabs of steel. Carol Gellner Levin’s “Golden Calf” wraps a mixed-media torso in golden film. Bart Walter’s pieces use cast bronze to convey a strong sense of the motion, and not just of the animals he depicts. In “Climate Change,” a silvery bear stands atop metal ice that appears to be melting beneath him. Capturing an animal in metal, Walter reminds us, doesn’t guarantee the survival of the species.
Zenith Zoo: Artistic Interpretations of Our Planetary Partners. On view through Aug. 30 at the Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space at 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-783-2963; www.zenithgallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.