Flying has become a routine activity for humans, and yet it never can be. Every defiance of gravity carries perils, and fliers who have become accustomed to intercontinental hops now plan risky courses for Mars and beyond. Not that they will get there in the conveyances on display in Cross MacKenzie Gallery’s “Blast Off! Dreams of Men in Flight.” Of the works in this group show, only the panoramic view of Burning Man’s array of blue-shadowed private airplanes shows the ability to fly. It gazes down from an ultralight piloted by photographer (and gallery namesake) Maxwell MacKenzie.
Matthew Courtney fashions ceramic rockets, given an industrial sheen by metallic glaze, but they are lumpy rather than streamlined. Sleeker but one-dimensional are Eve Biddle and Joshua Frankel’s rocket-shaped aluminum cutouts, decorated with such flight-worthy images as flocks of hot-pink birds. Painter Trevor Young depicts a jumbo jet on the tarmac, but in close shades of blue and black that recall nocturnes painted back when hot-air balloons were the only way for humans to soar.
Gilles D’Amecourt depicts the Little Prince, swooping close to Earth on his own petite asteroid. Dreams of flight turn more menacing, however, in two works that acknowledge the connection between flying and war. Tiny things buzz around flowers in Philip Slagter’s painting, in which the blooms are bright and lush but the simulated hummingbirds are military drones. A uniformed man sports a poignantly useless set of strap-on wings in Japanese-Swiss photographer David Favrod’s tableaux, “Vent Divin.” That is French for “divine wind,” a term that elicits more fear when translated back into Japanese: kamikaze.
Blast Off! Dreams of Men in Flight On view through May 6 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. www.crossmackenzie.com.
Stark portraits of the everyday are common in “Gute Aussichten: New German Photography 2014/2015,” one of the less flashy installments of this survey hosted annually by the Goethe-Institut. Katharina Fricke’s mostly black-and-white shots depict mundane buildings, focusing on small details; Andrea Grützner photographs interior staircases in color, capturing complex shadow patterns. But an unpopulated space is not always impersonal: Marvin Hüttermann’s bare rooms have been emptied by death, and the photographer follows their former residents to the morgue and the crematorium.
Three other participants prefer living models. Posed before dramatic black backdrops, Eduard Zent’s subjects juxtapose traditional and contemporary; characteristic is a man in an African tunic who is carrying athletic shoes with neon-yellow accents. Kolja Warnecke uses various formats to reveal the life of a middle-aged woman, highlighting such particulars as her tattooed shoulder and her pet mice. Jannis Schulze takes a similar approach to a broader topic: the people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. His series includes large framed prints, 3-by-5-inch snapshots and pictures printed on newsprint. The last of those options may be nearly obsolete, but the photographic image has been always adaptable to new forms of display.
Gute Aussichten: New German Photography 2014/2015 On view through April 30 at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW. 202-289-1200. www.goethe.de/washington.
Video art, by definition, moves. Yet it is often stiff and static. Not the collaborations of Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker, now dancing across screens in the lobby of the Capitol Skyline Hotel as part of the Washington Project for the Arts’s “Hothouse Video” program. The Panama-based artists make short videos — these six are 24 seconds to nine minutes long — in which inanimate things come playfully to life.
Conlon and Harker’s earlier pieces use unbroken single shots, and human hands often enter the frame. More recently, the duo has edited shots together to create seamless romps such as “Tropical Zincphony,” in which mangoes bounce across metal roofs with rhythmic assurance. If the artists started as found-object puppeteers, they are now choreographers.
Music and games are motifs of these vignettes, which can be seen online at vimeo.com, but the goal is not idle whimsy. “Drinking Song” plays the melody Americans know as “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a collection of beer bottles, all Panamanian brands. It is a clinkingly gentle way of noting that Panama has little choice but to hum an American tune.
Hothouse Video: Donna Conlon & Jonathan Harker On view through May 3 at Washington Project for the Arts at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, 10 I St. SW. 202-234-7103. www.wpadc.org.
Abstraction was once a realm of grand gestures, but these days, abstractionists are just as likely to burrow toward the microscopic. Local artists Eve Stockton and Sondra N. Arkin’s elegant recent work, collected in Long View Gallery’s “Networks,” depicts natural forms and processes, although not always literally.
Employing ink, wax and shellac, Arkin suggests cells and synapses, as well as man-made webs that convey electricity or information. The renderings of elaborate, seemingly organic tangles and clusters are complemented by wire constructions that cast “shadow drawings” on one corner of the gallery. While they are an intriguing expansion of the artist’s recent concerns, even her one-dimensional pieces have a commanding sense of depth.
Stockton’s large-scale woodcut prints include more immediately recognizable natural motifs, including waves, clouds and blooms. But they are densely arrayed and overlapped, often in blues, sea-greens and silvers that echo Arkin’s palette. (One notable exception is a blossom, printed in red on a white ground, that has the iconic directness of the Japanese flag.) In a room behind the main gallery are smaller, more traditionally representational prints that reveal the component images of Stockton’s richly layered visions.
Networks: Eve Stockton & Sondra N. Arkin On view through May 3 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-4788. www.longviewgallery.com.
Larry Lairson paints without color — and also without paint. The work in his “User Error,” at Honfleur Gallery, is made of polyurethane adhesive, stained gray and molded with plastic sheeting. All the pictures use an identical vertical format and are untitled, yet divide into two types. One set appears topographic, with what could be ridges, valleys and alluvial plains; this series also offers a sense of motion and even violence, complete with raw tears in the plastic skin. The other group has been sanded to reveal grainy, streaky patterns that suggest mists, deserts and decayed old photographs.
Lairson, who splits his time between Brooklyn and Washington, is hardly the only current artist to work with glue. But his contrast of voluptuous form and ashen palette is strikingly distinctive.
User Error: Larry Lairson On view through May 1 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. www.honfleurgallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.