The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In the galleries: Tiny contemporary monuments to transient phenomena

Diane Szczepaniak’s “Green Quietude,” on view at IA&A at Hillyer. (Diane Szczepaniak/Hillyer)

The most monumental thing about “Micro-Monuments II: Underground” is the way the sculptures are arranged in a semicircle at IA&A at Hillyer. The neat alignment is an homage to Pommelte, a ringed neolithic site known as “the German Stonehenge.” And yet, the individual artworks address modern concerns, often ecological ones. The artists — eight from Germany and 16 representing the Washington Sculptors Group — have erected tiny memorials to ephemeral things such as probiotics, hurricanes and the trash deposits known as middens.

The pieces use wood, plastic, paper and found objects more often than metal or stone, although there are exceptions. Marilyn and Gil Ugiansky drive a steel wedge into iron to signify “schisms,” and Jacqueline Maggi’s “Starry Night,” which conjures its subject with ebony wood studded with glimmering zircons, is on a marble pedestal. Both Janet Wittenberg and Diane Szczepaniak make evocative use of green glass, the former in an “Ocean Floor” diorama, the latter in partly overlapping sheets that embody “Green Quietude.”

Other themes are less picturesque. Ursula Achternkamp draws diagrams on chipboard to illustrate how tree trunks are cut into boards, and Judith Goodman places two model chickens inside a battered metal canister as an anti-memorial to the “Factory Farm.” Toy soldiers wade through a resin swamp atop a birthday cake in Esther Eunjin Lee’s sugary war monument.

The layout emphasizes the sculptures’ fronts, but a few pieces must be seen from the rear, as well. Marc Fromm’s two-faced woman is veiled on one side and wearing a cross necklace on the other, exemplifying the show’s approach to monumentalism: commemorating a world and its inhabitants that are diverse and mutable, not set in stone.

Also at IA&A, the collage-paintings of Andrea Limauro’s “Mare Nostrum” draw on historical styles, but the subject of the show is as contemporary as the orange life jacket and silver emergency blanket it incorporates. The Italy-bred local artist charts the progress of one symbolic migrant across the Mediterranean, the Roman Empire’s mare nostrum (“our sea”).

The show includes a split-screen video piece and sculpted hands that seem to emerge from the floor as though from beneath the waves. These are surrounded by paintings whose look emulates ancient maps, mosaics and frescoes but that are punctuated by small photos of ships or a guerrilla in a jungle. Limauro has researched child soldiers in Sierra Leone, so he knows the background of the story he tells. With “Mare Nostrum,” he places it in a context as a wide as the sea.

Angry white men and a few uniformed monkeys rampage through “Scrutinearsighted,” RICHard SMOLinski’s vehement burlesque of the international political phenomena that mainstream journalists politely label “populism.” The Toronto artist has papered the walls of IA&A’s smallest gallery with cartoon-paintings, rendered in smeary black and white on torn-edged, loosely aligned panels. SMOLinski’s style suggests German-American satirist George Grosz, while his teeming, hellish compositions recall Hieronymus Bosch. There’s no apparent escape from the fury, although maybe one of the artwork’s broken borders leads to a Brexit.

Micro-Monuments II: Underground; Andrea Limauro: Mare Nostrum; RICHard SMOLinski: Scrutinearsighted Through Oct. 28 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Ct. NW.

Deborah Addison Coburn

Among the people pictured in “One Family,” Deborah Addison Coburn’s show at Studio Gallery, are Iranians, Indians, Polish Jews, Japanese Hawaiians, Chinese Canadians and a clan whose heritage includes Africa, Europe and pre-Columbian North America. They’re all part of the American bloodline — although “blood tapestry” might be a more accurate term.

Working from vintage family photos, Coburn renders her and other people’s ancestors in large, realist charcoal drawings. She supplements the primary images with tints, embroidery and, most often, fabric. The cloth evokes domestic life, adds specific ethnic details and represents the portability of inherited culture. Land and dwellings must be left behind; kimonos and tablecloths can travel.

Several pictures depict families of other Studio Gallery artists, some of whom added their own touches. Thus, Coburn’s depiction of Freda Lee McCann’s forebears includes McCann’s Chinese calligraphy. Such contributions are poignantly personal but don’t detract from the portraits’ universality. In the title drawing, Coburn combines members of unrelated households to express a threatened ideal: e pluribus unum.

Deborah Addison Coburn: One Family Through Oct. 27 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW.


Some of the collages in Latela Art Gallery’s “Dimensions” don’t merely aspire to being paintings; they actually are. Using an expansive definition of “collage,” the show includes Anne Hanger’s large floral rendered with acrylic mixed with sand, as well as Maryam Rassapour’s drawings embellished with pools of glistening pigment. Annie Broderick’s fabric assemblage contrasts nubby and draped textures but is defined by the gold spray paint covering it all.

Other pieces employ more usual collage materials. Deming Harriman’s sun- and moon-headed 3-D figures, framed by elaborate borders, are mostly paper and cardboard. Jessica Dame begins with black-and-white glamour-girl shots, replacing the heads with photos of flowers and slashing the compositions with Day-Glo pink bars. Violeta Barcenas arrays leaf-shaped paper cutouts on a painted-red backdrop, and Alyxander Goastier juxtaposes newspaper clippings and supermarket receipts with overlapping painted circles in bright hues. One of the most important dimensions in this show is color.

Dimensions: A Collage Exhibition Through Oct. 27 at Latela Art Gallery, 716 Monroe St. NE.

Gabe Brown

Nature-inspired but essentially abstract, Gabe Brown’s paintings combine geometric and organic forms, muted backdrops and vibrant foregrounds. Adah Rose Gallery’s “Along the Enchanted Way” pairs the Upstate New York artist’s pictures with ceramics by Akemi Maegawa, a Bethesdan whose work has been reviewed here recently.

Brown paints and then scrapes away some of the pigment to get a worn look, suggesting weathered buildings and eroded stone. Over these settings, she layers sprays of teardrop shapes, which might be leaves or water, and hard-edge polygons in bright, artificial colors. The effect is fundamentally harmonious. The elements of Brown’s pictorial universe are disparate, yet not antagonistic.

Gabe Brown & Akemi Maegawa: Along the Enchanted Way Through Oct. 28 at Adah Rose Gallery, 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington.