Every piece in Wells & Barnes’s “Seats of Power” has a chair in it, but the objects can signify different things.
The centerpiece of the Greater Reston Arts Center show is “Study for a Monument,” which arrays 88 charred and battered chairs on one side of a wooden teeter-totter. Inspired by the Arab Spring and the Occupy protests, the assemblage resembles a cresting wave.
That imagery is even more apparent in “Rising Tide,” an embroidered silhouette in which chairs surge higher, unconstrained by the gallery’s ceiling. But other works show burning thrones or plummeting chairs, invoking destruction and defeat.
Wells & Barnes are Gayle Wells Mandle and Julia Barnes Mandle, mother-and-daughter artists who live, respectively, in Massachusetts and Holland. This show includes work by each individually, as well the collaborations. The younger Mandle is the embroiderer, and also contributes photographs and charcoal drawings. Her mother offers mixed-media collage-paintings. Together, the team made the main piece, some small bronzes and photographic “portraits” of seared chairs.
In many of these works, gold stands for wealth and power, and fire damage suggests political violence. The show was conceived before ISIS’s barbarities, but it does anticipate the possibility of counterrevolutionary terror. The central piece is called a study, not just because it’s assembled differently every time it’s installed, but because popular uprisings are perennial. In the gallery, the teeter-totter can’t move, but outside, the balance of power can always shift.
Wells & Barnes: Seats of Power On view through Satuday at Greater Reston Arts Center, 12001 Market St., Reston. 703-471-9242. restonarts.org.
Local painter Dan Perkins has shown his work locally several times, but never with so compatible a partner as Mexico-born D.C. artist Alejandro Pintado. In Hamiltonian Gallery’s “Material/Ethereal,” the two almost-realists contrast classical-style interiors and landscapes with geometric forms.
Pintado’s paintings depict book-lined studies modeled on those of 19th-century paradigm-shifters, including Charles Darwin. These spaces, rendered in Victorian gray-browns, are disrupted by outlines of polygons and polyhedrons. Most of these glow as though made of neon tubes, and some float in midair. According to the artist, the bright shapes symbolize the pursuit of knowledge. They also emphasize the illusion of representational painting. In Pintado’s works, drab backdrops and luminescent figures are plausible individually; together they’re eerily incongruous.
Perkins, too, interjects geometry into a naturalistic genre. His earlier pictures were almost-traditional landscapes, but framed in a way that proclaimed their artifice. The ones in this show often put triangles or diamonds atop the sun-dappled vistas, placing the artist’s gambits directly between viewer and subject. Both Pintado and Perkins pit hard-edged theoretical forms against softer real-world ones, and question which, if either, is more genuine.
Material/Ethereal On view through Saturday at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, Suite 101. 202-332-1116. hamiltoniangallery.com.
Photography promises to preserve moments forever, but Soomin Ham prefers distorted or decayed images — visual metaphors for misplaced memories and lost lives. The Korea-raised local artist’s recent exhibition at Flashpoint included vintage snapshots of her late mother, rephotographed through ice. Her “Unseen/Expired” revisits landscapes she shot on film years ago. For her show at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Ham printed the negatives with expired paper and developer and no fixer. Then she photographed the emerging (but soon to perish) images with a digital camera.
The mystery of the resulting black-on-black scenes is contrasted by a small detail from the digital picture, flipped from negative to positive by photo-editing software. These insets replace a bit of the shadowy photo print with a sunnier, if chilly, digital one. Ham chose the negatives randomly, she writes, but their subjects include shrines such as the Taj Mahal and the Washington Monument. The irony is that these edifices have endured, but the pictures of them have faded to black.
Soomin Ham: Unseen/Expired On view through June 19 at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. 703-683-2205. multipleexposuresgallery.com.
Transformer’s modest space isn’t big enough for an Albert Bierstadt landscape or a Robert Motherwell abstraction, but it can hold another art-museum monument: a gift shop.
Organized by NoMuNoMu (a.k.a. Joseph Orzal and Nora Mueller), “Gift Shop” cheekily hawks affordable merchandise made or repurposed by about 20 local artists. The goods range from sidewalk-vendor mainstays (Kaliq Crosby’s airbrushed T-shirts of Prince) to the kinky (Meagan Coleman’s pink ropes for the Japanese bondage practice known as shibari).
Among the found objects are the beckoning gold cats in the window and a pair of counterfeit Kanye West-edition Adidas sneakers from the Philippines (courtesy of Orzal’s mom). Some pieces were personalized by online services that print images on items such as towels, scarves and pillows. Wilson Butterworth’s craggy little $1 plastic busts of Ronald Reagan came from a 3-D printer. Justin Poppe builds clocks with faces that are manga-style comics panels. The D.C. Conspiracy makes actual comic books. There are also NoMuNoMu Gift Shop totes and T-shirts, which are limited editions. That makes them, in a way, artier than their National Gallery of Art equivalents.
Gift Shop On view through Saturday at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102. transformerdc.org.
Judging from his “Dominican Sunset” series of accidental landscapes, Peter Kephart should paint just with fire. The West Virginia artist takes moistened cotton-rag paper and roasts it over hot embers, yielding subtle tan-and-brown patterns, except where he’s covered the surface with blobs of starch. Those areas, when the paste is removed, glow with intense whiteness. The process produced some of the most distinctive work in “Burning Brighter,” Kephart’s latest Zenith Gallery show.
Although the finished works sometimes evoke the swirling heat that sparked them, surrealistic landscapes are the most frequent result. Burnt paper represents earth, with watercolor hues added for sky and vegetation. This selection includes some dynamic paintings in which the scorches are augmented by blue only, whether to suggest a rush of water across a volcanic landscape or to underscore the charred swoops and star-bright highlights. These pictures heighten the effect without masking the violence of Kephart’s process.
Burning Brighter: The Fascinating Firepaintings of Peter Kephart On view through June 25 at Zenith Gallery, 1429 Iris St. NW. 202-783-2963. zenithgallery.com.