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In the galleries: Where nature and art come together

Ana Elisa Benavent. “Weathering the Storm” Acrylic on Board - 36 x 36”; on view at Hillyer Art Space. (Courtesy Ana Elisa Benavent and Hillyer Art Space)

When using manufactured material to evoke nature, it doesn’t hurt to include some of the real thing. Local sculptor Nara Park builds little Stonehenges from rectangular and hexagonal packaging boxes made of plastic and often imprinted with Park-designed patterns that suggest marble and granite. The centerpiece of her “Parallels: Sculptures & Installations,” at Honfleur Gallery, is a rocky wall that contains a towering waterfall. The stones are hollow and plastic, but the recirculating water is genuine.

So are the goldfish that swim through the title piece, which places rocklike boxes in a fish tank. Another assemblage has a faucet and drain, but no water, as if to evoke lack and loss. (It’s titled after the missing element: “This water will bring you a miracle.”) In “Contained,” a sinuous wall of clear acrylic boxes, the liquid component is light, which refracts through the transparent planes. The motion of water and light is transient yet eternal; plastic, which feels flimsy but will last roughly forever, has a different sort of permanence.

Park has said that she’s inspired by large retail displays of stacked consumer products, so it might make more sense if she used off-the-shelf containers to emphasize the chasm between the natural and the fabricated. But that would mean relinquishing the stone- and plantlike forms Park designs for the plastic boxes. When building a universe, the prime mover likes to have a little artistic input.

Parallels: Sculptures & Installations: Nara Park. On view through Friday at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE, 202-365-8392,

Herbie Nichols, At Alfred Lion's Home (May 1955). (Francis Wolff; Copyright Mosaic Images LLC)

Millicent Young, Tom Hill and Ana Elisa Benavent

Working mostly with dried vines and draped horsehair, Millicent Young makes sculptures that are entirely of the natural world, yet transcend it. The five pieces in “Known/Not Known” are large and vertically oriented; one is essentially a floor-to-ceiling pillar of hair that appears almost as ethereal as a column of light. The artist lives on a Virginia farm and works with objects at hand, but uses them to evoke larger forces, including mortality. These pieces are dedicated to her father, who died last year. In Young’s words, he traveled from “the Known into the Not Known.” Young’s swaying, shadow-playing constructions are at Hillyer Art Space, also host to shows by Tom Hill and Ana Elisa Benavent.

Based on images from gay pornography, the paintings in Hill’s “Spark and Stubble” feature crisply rendered male nudes, but under layers of shimmering glazes. The D.C. artist blends glitter into acrylic pigments and uses tropical shades of orange, red and green. The hard lines of the outlined bodies contrast loose, sometimes watery areas of color, although not all the latter are abstract: The patterned background of one consists of hundreds of pink and green sperm. The pictures’s titles are included in the compositions, and the mix of simple text, streamlined image and free color recalls Andy Warhol. But where Warhol was ironic, Hill is fluorescently bold.

Red, white and blue are the principal colors in Benavent’s abstractions, but no one would mistake her “Landing” show for patriotic bunting. In “Weathering the Storm,” a mass of mottled blue hovers in the center, above a whitish region, with red glowing at the top. The painting doesn’t literally depict a tempest, but like most of these acrylic-on-panel pictures, it is hard-worked and turbulent. The Mexico-bred Alexandria resident layers and excavates, and in “Not Anymore” the struggle yields an eerie emptiness. But Benavent also painted the six-panel “From Longing to Hope,” studies in rich blue whose surfaces are undisturbed and whose depths feel serene.

Millicent Young: Known/Not Known; Tom Hill: Spark and Stubble; Ana Elisa Benavent: Landing. On view through Saturday at Hillyer Art Space, 9 Hillyer Court NW; 202-338-0680;

Women Sculptors

A black marble bustier, a platform shoe hewn from limestone, and a dress made of wired-together stones are among the one-of-a-kind merchandise in “What Not to Wear: Women Sculptors,” at George Washington University’s Luther W. Brady Gallery. The playful contrasts are both verbal and visual. Michelle Jaffé’s aluminum breastplate resembles part of an airplane fuselage, while Diane Simpson’s fiberboard “Box Pleats” stands upright — part dress, part teepee. When clothing verges on the architectural, the term “foundation garment” takes on a new meaning.

Not all the items are unwearable. There’s a video of a performance by a woman in Susie B. Woods’s stone dress, and Isabelle de Borchgrave’s paper caftan probably could be worn, although it’s a showcase for painting, not textiles. Mandy Cano Villalobos’s “Undone” is the formerly wearable: sweaters she has unraveled and wound into balls of yarn.

Many of these artists riff on such oppositions as soft and hard or making and unmaking, and link the physicality of sculpture with that of the body. Wood’s contributions include a hanging stone sarcophagus, which is starkly beautiful. This is a show about clothing, though, so there’s always an element of dress-up fun. Joyce Zipperer’s green copper “Nike’s Slipper” might be just as unfeasible as her limestone shoe, but with its rear wheel and feathery streamlining, it elegantly feigns being light on its foot.

What Not to Wear: Women Sculptors. On view through Friday at George Washington University Luther W. Brady Gallery, 805 21st St. N.W., 2nd floor; 202-994-1525;

Francis Wolff

When Francis Wolff ran Blue Note Records with fellow German-Jewish emigre Alfred Lion, his responsibility was the financial side. But he was frequently in studios and clubs, pursuing his other artistic interest: photography. “Search for a New Sound: The Blue Note Photographs of Francis Wolff” presents more than 30 of Wolff’s black-and-white pictures, from Thelonious Monk in 1952 to George Benson in 1967.

Wolff had great access to great musicians, so the Goethe-Institut exhibition may interest jazz fans more than devotees of postwar photography. But he also had a flair for freezing action while conveying motion and an appreciation of 1920s German expressionism. Wolff liked to shoot jazzmen in the mist — actually cigarette smoke, of course — and made artful use of shadows, as in a portrait of J.J. Johnson with the outline of his trombone on his face. But his most common gambit was to juxtapose a drummer’s focused face and blurred hand, suggesting both mental concentration and physical commotion.

Search for a New Sound: The Blue Note Photographs of Francis Wolff. On view through July 3 at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW; 202-289-1200;

Jenkins is a freelance writer.



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