There’s a Victorian vibe to Justine Otto’s art — and that’s noticeable even before a visitor to her Goethe-Institut show encounters the wall of more than 30 mostly small paintings, arranged as if in some Bismarck-era burgher’s formal parlor. Even the modernist white backdrop can’t spoil the effect, although flocked wallpaper would be more felicitous.
The Poland-born German artist usually portrays girls and women, often in prim period costume and usually at night or in shadow. Clothing and hairstyles look a few generations out of date, and the occasional nude has a pre-modern feel, too. A picture of four young beauties dancing naked under a drippy midnight sky suggests the 19th-century vogue for playing at paganism. Invoking ancient traditions, the dancers wear floral wreaths in their hair.
The exhibition is titled “hyder flares,” after a solar phenomenon, and stars, moons and planets are integral to Otto’s repertoire of images. The artist also has a thing for eyes, sometimes depicted in an eerie manner that recalls Salvador Dali or EC Comics. In one painting, a woman holds a set of eyeballs in front of her own, intact orbs; in another, several white-clad men drag a massive eye as if it were a ship or a jetliner. The wall of paintings includes several close-ups of single eyes, both human and avian.
These slightly ominous motifs are depicted not with Dali-like rigor, but in a painterly expressionist mode. Otto, who won the Phillips Collection’s Emerging Artist Prize at last fall’s (e)merge art fair, often works from photographs, but doesn’t emulate their precision. Her loose brushwork blurs the boundaries between earth and sky, animal and human, everyday and uncanny. Despite their many traditional elements, most of Otto’s paintings are a little too strange for a proper parlor.
Justine Otto’s ‘hyder flares’ On view through Sept. 4 at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW; 202-289-1200; www.goethe.de/washington.
Cities can be said to have rhythms, but they’re generally more haphazard than the ones that characterize James Crable’s digital photo collages. The pictures in the Harrisonburg artist’s Heurich Gallery show, “Streets and Sidewalks,” merge images of the same site at different times to construct regular grids of people and places. In Crable’s study of San Francisco City Hall, dozens of citizens enter or exit a set of doors; in several pictures of college campuses, students and faculty buzz through hive-like structures.
The pictures are linked by repeated architectural designs and sometimes consistent hues, such as in a depiction of a fire station (red) or an entrance to New York’s High Line (yellow-green). One piece, “Urban Walls, U.S.A.,” is more free-form and has a colorful patchwork quality. All of Crable’s montages look different from a distance and at close range, which makes them a metaphor for seeing and understanding: From different vantage points, the same universe can appear either random or ordered.
James Crable: Streets and Sidewalks On view through Sept. 9 at Heurich Gallery, 505 9th St. NW; 202-223-1626, www.downtowndc.org/go/the-heurich-gallery.
The paintings of David Carlson and Pat Goslee, although dissimilar in some ways, prove compatible in “Fields,” their show at the Athenaeum. Both artists employ a colorful palette on mostly light backdrops, although Carlson is more likely to allow bright white to shine through. The pair also share an affinity for hard-edged shapes, but contrasted by softer gestures in compositions that are collage-like rather than unified by pattern or method.
Carlson, an Arlingtonian, and Goslee, who lives in D.C., are abstractionists who include some forms that flirt with representation. Several of Goslee’s pictures hint at anatomy, with components that somewhat resemble bones, blood vessels and internal organs. Carlson incorporates spirals that imply the raked sand of Zen gardens (although maybe that’s just because he titled one picture “Wabi-Sabi,” after the Japanese term for the beauty of the rough, unfinished and ephemeral.) Goslee’s contributions are the more diverse, with a set of small paintings that are studies for larger works and two works on paper. The latter, heavily worked and seemingly more spontaneous, are energetic and engagingly immediate.
Fields: David Carlson and Pat Goslee On view through Sept. 6 at The Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria; 703-548-0035; nvfaa.org.
“Alone in the Woods,” Dan Perkins’s show at Hamiltonian Gallery, takes its name from its largest canvas, in which a rising sun glows over a lake its rays have painted yellow. Nine smaller pictures are vignettes of nature, with heightened, slightly artificial colors. These oils intensify 19th-century landscape painting with the saturated hues of pop art and photorealism.
Perkins’s sprin+g show at the Arlington Art Center more often depicted human-made structures in the wild, but there’s always a hint of human intervention in his work. While the Baltimore-based artist doesn’t place people amid the vistas, he uses tents, fences and telephone poles to frame the views, and thus set nature on a sort of stage. His recent paintings are interrupted by oblong portals, which suggest windows, lenses or digital-device screens. Perkins emphasizes painting’s artificiality by making every composition a look through, and not just at, the natural world.
Does Washington’s neoclassical architecture signify Athenian democracy or Roman imperialism? For Adam Ryder, it’s the latter. So at Hamiltonian he’s assembled actual photographs, ambiguous artifacts and a fictional organizational chart to illustrate his choice. The Brooklyn artist’s “Renovatio Imperii” purportedly documents a covert group, based in D.C., that seeks to reestablish the Roman empire. It’s an amusing little riff, but one that pales next to the vast corpus of existing conspiracy theories that involve Washington, let alone Rome.
Dan Perkins: Alone in the Woods Adam Ryder: Renovatio Imperii On view through Sept. 12 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, Suite 101; 202-332-1116; hamiltoniangallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.