For more than a few contemporary artists, the sensation that art critic Robert Hughes once described as “the shock of the new” has given way to the allure of the old. Among the inspirations for Francie Hester’s “Symbolic Spaces,” at the Athenaeum, are bi discs, unearthed from Chinese graves dug as many as 5,400 years ago. Where the originals are mostly jade or glass, Hester’s freshly manufactured “Relics” are aluminum, covered in acrylic and wax. The same shapes and ingredients recur in most of the other work.
Often arranged in suites, Hester’s wall sculptures suggest utilitarian objects whose purpose has been forgotten. The artist, based in Kensington, Md., distresses the pieces with drills, sandpaper, routers and blowtorches, marring both the metallic surface and the pigments she has applied to it, only to build it all up again. The resulting textures are often clearly metallic, but sometimes look like ceramics, as in the “Vessel” series, whose weathered Plexiglas skins contrast their mirror-polished steel mounts. A series of silkscreen monoprints translates the sculpture’s roundabout motifs to paper, more gently.
Hester writes that her mostly curved or circular forms express infinity and the fluidity of time. Yet their scored, battered exteriors also evoke the decay of existence. Although the orbs may spin theoretically forever, their materials wither — with a little push from the artist — until they come to resemble primeval artifacts of beguiling mystery.
Francie Hester: Symbolic Spaces. On view through Aug. 3 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria; 703-548-0035; www.nvfaa.org.
The past is quilted into Sonya Lawyer’s “A Peace (of the Dream),” which combines rectangles of hand-dyed fabric with vintage photographic portraits. The Flashpoint Gallery show is clearly personal for its creator, who teaches at the Art Institute of Washington. Yet the pictures come from anonymous photo albums the artist collects, and the comments scattered among the sewed and inkjet-printed assemblages include anecdotes from relatives and friends — as well as a few lines from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” which muses on time and change.
Most of the pieces feature a single picture reproduced several times; sometimes it’s flopped so the person faces in two directions. Lawyer usually arranges the images symmetrically, but occasionally more jazzily. They’re often printed on tan or brown fabric, giving the black-and-white photos a sepia tone that suits their age. The show also includes a community quilt that incorporates visitors’ family photos and memories. But then the entire array is a work of community, stitching pictures of perhaps-forgotten people into a shared sense of heritage.
Sonya Lawyer: A Peace (of the Dream). On view through Aug. 2 at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW; 202-315-1305; www.culturaldc.org/visual-arts/flashpoint-gallery.
“Ripple: Cloth Community Connectivity” begins with fabric art but ventures far afield. The group exhibition, at VisArts’s Kaplan Gallery, includes pieces that take stitchery to the street and even onto CNN. That’s where Naomi Davidoff’s Wolf Blitzer tunic (made for the lead singer of Man Man, an art-rock band) became an item on Anderson Cooper’s “RidicuList.”
Much of the work is political, or at least sociological. Queerstories, a three-woman Baltimore collective, uses pennants to mark people and places in the city’s gay history. Annet Couwenberg’s video study of Muslim women documents discussion of female and immigrant identity at a Rotterdam sewing circle. Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle, co-founders of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, display part of a mammoth public-display quilt assembled from squares made by rape and abuse survivors.
Several of the pieces are designed for performance, so they’re not really complete as exhibited here. But Emily Schubert’s “Mouth Monster,” a suit covered with upholstered lips, is entertaining even without the artist inside it. Also potentially wearable is Jen Liu’s “Noise Sweater,” with three knobs arrayed winkingly along the bust line. And unlike iPods, Liu’s garments are open-source, with instructions available to anyone who wants to knit herself a music player.
Two years ago, Jackie Hoysted showed paintings of glowering beauties, part runaway model and part feminist warrior. Her current project is, well, sweeter. The Dublin-bred local artist’s “The Candy Store,” at VisArts’s Common Ground Gallery, consists of painted bars and circles in neon and pastel hues. The pigment is mixed with wax, and some of the pictures have waxy white surfaces that emulate clumped sugary coatings. The finishing touch is that the paintings are scented, so a faintly sticky perfume fills the small room. Whether hung on the walls or displayed in boxes, Hoysted’s confections are too small individually to overwhelm in the manner of a massive color-field painting. As a literally fragrant suite, however, “The Candy Store” is immersive.
Ripple: Cloth Community Connectivity; Jackie Hoysted: The Candy Store. On view through Aug. 17 at Kaplan and Common Ground Galleries, VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville; 301-315-8200, www.visartscenter.org.
“Summer Splash II,” Robert Brown Gallery and Neptune Fine Art’s slow-season group show, hasn’t entirely supplanted Brown’s former exhibition of work by Oleg Kudryashov. Some of the Russian artist’s complex prints and paper constructions remain on display, along with mostly familiar (and largely on-paper) pieces by Pablo Picasso, Bridget Riley, William Kentridge and Helen Frankenthaler. Among “Splash’s” standouts are Chuck Close’s eerily intimate screenprint portrait of Philip Glass, Foon Sham’s small, undulating cones of interlocking wooden pieces and a set of Ingrid Calame etchings whose complementary-color patterns are intricate yet open.
In the back yard, Neptune is showing “Straight from the Studio,” new sculpture by Jeff Chyatte, who works in aluminum. Some consist of maze-like patterns, while others stack off-balance blocks in seeming defiance of gravity. Although the bold geometric shapes demand attention, it’s the detail that holds it. The local sculptor, who does all his own metal work, welds the pieces together seamlessly and buffs curlicue patterns into the metal planes. The delicate motifs provide an intriguing contrast to the sculpture’s burly forms.
Summer Splash III; Jeff Chyatte: Straight from the Studio. On view through Aug. 9 at Robert Brown Gallery and Neptune Fine Art, 1662 33rd St. NW; 202-338-0353; www.robertbrowngallery.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.