Famously unfinished works of art are often left that way for a solemn reason: Their creators died. But there are other possible explanations for walking away. A partial artwork could still be in process or be an attempt to capture a fleeting, imperfect perception. Or it might be a fully realized piece on the subject of incompletion. There are examples of all those in Target Gallery’s “Interlude: Unfinished Works.”
The show gathers work by 21 artists, about half local. The abstractions include Barbara Januszkiewicz’s color-field painting, which has room for one more broad, fluid stroke, but won’t get it; the composition is fixed for all time by the resin that coats the surface. Sarah Hardesty is showing a monochromatic, cross-hatched picture that was to be the foundation for further painting until she decided she was done. Katy Mixon applies layers of pigment and then cuts into them to reveal the colors below; her piece is at Level 4 of a procedure that usually goes to at least 10.
Other entries are illustrative, although not of physical things. Bushra Shamma’s rendering of her parents on their honeymoon was left partial to signify her mother’s early death. Nicole Fossi’s picture of a partly clothed woman is intentionally sketchy to embody the transition from naked to dressed. Kathleen Greco’s partly erased pencil drawing seeks a visual equivalent of John Cage’s chance-generated, Zen-inspired music. Diane Charnov summons high school trauma with an incomplete SAT answer sheet, transferred from flimsy paper to a sturdy ceramic block.
Actual paper is the medium of the show’s largest piece, Haeley Kyong’s hanging helix sculpture, which folds the complexity of DNA out of one spiraling sheet. Individual people can be complete, more or less, but humanity is an ongoing project.
Interlude: Unfinished Works Through Jan. 21 at Target Gallery, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. 703-746-4590. torpedofactory.org/target.
Among the perplexities of our age is that art is becoming less durable and kitsch more so. Artists intentionally work with stuff that won’t last — plants, ice, light, cardboard — while computer memory allows snapshots and cute-animal videos to endure (theoretically, at least) forever. Italian architect Andrea Ponsi’s sketches, on display in “Face It!” at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, combine aspects of the eternal and the disposable: They’re rendered with neoclassical technique on Post-it notes.
The gallery is papered with about 2,000 Ponsi drawings, each of a face the architect says is imaginary. Nearly all are on small squares of yellow paper, some in a brighter shade. (These are an off-brand.) Most are in a single color, usually black or red, but some are in multiple hues. About 70 of the drawings are on larger sheets. The bigger ones are in charcoal; the smaller ones also employ pencil, ink and occasionally paint.
Ponsi may not portray actual people, but that doesn’t mean there are no sources for his pictures. The architect grew up in Tuscany and attended college in museum-rich Florence, where he’s based. The stylistically diverse sketches range from realistic to playful and indicate a familiarity with both Old Masters and the New Yorker.
Lined up neatly together, the drawings also suggest Warhol and other modernists who embraced mechanical reproduction. It’s only the format of Ponsi’s sketches, however, that’s repeated. Every visage is different, which makes “Face It!” a small act of rebellion against mass-produced culture.
Face It! Sketches by Andrea Ponsi Through Jan. 18 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.
The beret-clad man clutches a machine gun in one hand and a flaming, gasoline-filled Pepsi bottle in the other. The image is far more famous than Susan Meiselas, the American photographer who made it, and maybe even than the late-1970s civil war it encapsulated. The picture even became a symbol of the force that won the conflict: Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, or simply, the Sandinistas.
The reissue of Meiselas’s 1981 book, “Nicaragua,” is the occasion for a traveling show of the same name, now at D.C.’s Leica store. The layout places the Molotov-cocktail wielder next to an equally extraordinary shot of his enemies, President Anastasio Somoza and company, all in white suits as if on their way to a neo-fascist prom. But most of the pictures document the uprising and its working-class bystanders: being searched, standing in the ruins of their former homes or hauling a husband’s wrapped corpse home on a simple pushcart.
Although Meiselas is not primarily a war photographer, she didn’t avert her gaze from gruesome scenes. The most disturbing photo here depicts a lovely vista whose foreground is dominated by a mutilated body. The location was a frequent killing field for Somoza’s National Guard, but the brutality evokes the latest dispatches from Syria, Yemen and Burma.
Susan Meiselas: Nicaragua Through Jan. 30 at Leica, 977 F St. NW. 202-787-5900. leicastoredc.com.
Brightly hued and straightforward in technique, the paintings in Watergate Gallery’s “Rhythm and Color in Haiti” display an affinity with French seekers of simplicity such as Matisse, Gauguin and Henri Rousseau. But the Haitian artists’ naivete is sometimes tempered by guile. The elongated figures and trees in Jonas Profil’s pictures suggest a tropical Giacometti; in Préfète Duffaut’s “Villa Imaginaire,” multilevel waterfront paradises twist into the sky like the handiwork of an M.C. Escher whose style softened while on a Caribbean getaway.
Sometimes the desired balance of directness and intricacy is achieved by the choice of subject, as in Luckain Innocent’s depiction of an elaborate pink house with ornate white railings. It contains complexity in a single entity. Uncharacteristically minimalist in composition, yet striking in execution, is Carel Blain’s still life of three orange gourds on a rich blue background.
Among the returning artists who have made an impression in the gallery’s previous Haitian-art shows are Emmanuel Joseph and Kens Cassagnol. The former portrays jungles full of creatures, including lions and zebras, not found naturally in Haiti. The latter depicts landscapes in which prominently positioned seed pods harbor miniature worlds. Both Joseph and Cassagnol paint flatly, but their visions are deeper than their styles.
Rhythm and Color in Haiti Through Jan. 20 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW. 202-338-4488. watergategalleryframedesign.com.