The Washington Women’s Art Center began in 1975, at a time when young feminists had quit asking politely for the rights and privileges that men took for granted. Yet there’s little confrontational work in “Latitude,” the American University Museum’s survey of art by onetime members or associates of the WWAC, which existed until the end of 1986 (and for two more years as the New Art Center). Curated by veteran D.C. gallery manager Francoise Yohalem, the selection encompasses pieces by 91 women (and one man).
Much, but not all, of the work dates from the years the WWAC was active, first near Dupont Circle and then on the now-vanished gallery row of Seventh Street NW. Most redolent of the center’s founding era are Terry Braunstein’s wanted poster of a naked pregnant woman and Shirley True’s nude self-portrait in which she holds a used sanitary pad. But they’re not characteristic of the show.
“Latitude” is a project of the museum’s Alper Initiative for Washington Art, which was endowed by local artist Carolyn Alper. Her undated acrylic-stained pastel abstraction demonstrates the influence of her early teachers, D.C. colorists Morris Louis and Gene Davis. It, too, is not characteristic.
The majority of the artworks are representational, at least in part, and yet strikingly diverse in style and intent. Among these are an expressionist woodcut landscape by Aline Feldman (who died at age 90 in June); Sharon Moody’s photorealist suburban streetscape; and Nina Muys’s etching of a dried sunflower blossom. The drawings are as diverse as an inventory of disembodied architectural details by Janis Goodman (one of WWAC’s founders) and Alice D. Sims’s precise rendering of a mummified skeleton.
Many of the most intriguing items are three-dimensional, although sometimes just barely: Tazuko Ichikawa offers a minimalist abstraction that resembles a painting but features gently rounded wax bars, and Gail Watkins’s piece looks like fabric yet is actually mixed media on a piece of chain-link fence.
Bonnie B. Collier fills a box with sprouting potatoes made of clay; Joan Danziger uses similar material to beget a merry-go-round frog; and Marie Ringwald edges a sand-cast cross in neon. Mimi Frank’s multi-stranded sculpture, the only object made of steel, is simultaneously delicate and substantial. If not as brawny as the work of the most macho of metal-smiths, the skillfully constructed piece can’t be dismissed as women’s work.
Latitude: The Washington Women’s Art Center, 1975-1987 Through Aug. 12 at American University Museum, Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
When D.C. artist Sam Gilliam emerged in the 1960s, he was often grouped stylistically with Washington colorists a decade or more older. But his real peers included two men featured with him in a 1969 show at the Corcoran Gallery, “Gilliam Krebs McGowin.” Two of them are spotlighted in “The Public Artworks of Rockne Krebs & Sam Gilliam, Built and Unbuilt,” a selection of drawings and photos of projects that themselves wouldn’t fit into Washington Studio School’s Kalorama townhouse.
Gilliam’s proposals are for sculptures at locations such as New York’s LaGuardia Airport and a Boston-area transit station. (Both were built.) Krebs, who died in 2011, was a pioneer of large-scale laser installations. He drew and painted a rendering of Boston’s Charles River Basin at night, crisscrossed by a web of green beams. It’s the piece here that is most attractive on its own terms, not just as a likeness of a grand design. Less compelling as an artwork, but a nifty idea, is Krebs’s scheme to embellish a Shreveport, La., bridge with a series of red triangles.
The show is accompanied by an impressive catalogue that documents Gilliam and Krebs’s history of friendship and collaboration, as well as their work for the public realm.
The Public Artworks of Rockne Krebs & Sam Gilliam, Built and Unbuilt Through Aug. 10 at Washington Studio School, 2129 S St. NW.
Beguiled by the urbanized white storks of Morocco, Cheryl Hochberg began to paint the birds in flight. The pictures in “The Storks Come Home to Roost,” at VisArts’ Common Ground Gallery, are rendered realistically on multiple sheets of unstretched canvas. The storks soar through baby-blue skies and sometimes swoop from one hanging fabric rectangle onto the next. Thus the Pennsylvania artist simulates motion and conveys a sense of freedom.
This isn’t just a suite of paintings, though. “I became a stork for six months,” Hochberg writes in a gallery note. She built a large nest of twigs and grasses that now sits in the center of the room and contains the sort of human detritus birds often collect. (Technically, it’s artist detritus, from Hochberg’s studio.) She also inserted bits of actual junk into the mouths of several of the painted storks, making a 3-D connection between the nest and the birds. The pictures are as lovely and graceful as the creatures themselves, but Hochberg reminds us that many storks live in the mess people have made.
Cheryl Hochberg: The Storks Come Home to Roost Through Aug. 12 at Common Ground Gallery, VisArts, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville.
It’s not easy being green, chides Rives Wiley in “How to Be Photo-Synthetic,” her Hamiltonian Gallery show. The D.C. artist bases 3-D installations on digital imagery, creating spaces that appear recognizable yet slightly eerie. Her source for this simulated place is stock photography of spas that turn the spare Zen aesthetic into something of hospital-like sterility. Mocking the cult of wellness, she places pots of plastic grass and cups of fake green tea amid large white stones that are actually painted plastic foam.
The piece, as Wiley explained in a recent artist’s talk, was partly inspired by her distrust of new-age phenomena such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. But she also seeks to replicate the experience of looking at photos, even covering some surfaces with gel so they appear unfocused. What some people perceive as “natural” is presented here as profoundly alienating.
Also at Hamiltonian is work by Ellen Xu, a China-born artist who received her MFA in Seattle. The fragmented narrative of her video, “Chimerical,” turns on a wedding dance by a couple, the man Western and the woman Asian. The latter character may be a figment of the man’s — or the artist’s — imagination. The video plays near a gray jigsaw-puzzle sculpture with pieces missing. Xu seams highly attuned to things that aren’t there.
Rives Wiley: How to Be Photo-Synthetic and Ellen Xu: Chimerical Through Aug. 11 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW.