The personal is political, and vice versa, in five current museum shows whose means range from pen-and-ink drawings to the latest computer technology.
Ink spatters, googly eyes and a cartoon of Richard Nixon with Spiro Agnew as his backside are among the savage attractions in this Ralph Steadman survey at the American University Museum. There’s plenty of the British illustrator’s “gonzo” work, occasioned by his forays with the anarchic Hunter S. Thompson. Also included are manipulated Polaroids and pictures drawn for children’s books and beer labels. Steadman’s style, which relies on compasses and straight edges, contrasts exquisite control with raw abandon. The other essential ingredient is the artist’s outrage, which remains strong, as he demonstrates with a cartoon of Donald Trump as a “Porky Pie” — Cockney rhyming slang for “lie.” Through Aug. 12 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202-885-1300. american.edu/museum.
It’s hard to fit a moving body inside the frame of a picture — but not a video image. In the Hirshhorn’s first performance-art exhibition, video monitors have been placed in front of metal bleachers around the museum’s second-floor inner ring. They display performances, from six to 94 minutes long, by five artists who use dance, music and the spoken word to explore personal identity. The show, which takes its title from the Smiths album “Still Ill,” is being supplemented by live performances by Mariana Valencia (July 12-13 ), Morgan Bassichis (July 19), Will Rawls (July 26-27) and Moriah Evans (Aug. 6-10). Through Aug. 12 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and Seventh Street SW. 202-633-2822. hirshhorn.si.edu.
Home soil is sacred in Australian Aboriginal culture, which is why this nine-artist show identifies its temporary home as being “on traditional land of the Piscataway people.” The women who made these densely patterned paintings, drawings and sculptures both uphold and adapt traditional motifs, borrowing from maps, flowers, textiles, decorative arts and the outback’s starry nights. Among the most striking objects are treelike poles derived from a now-abandoned tradition of storing the bones of the dead in hollow eucalyptus trunks. The body emerges from the hallowed landscape, and then returns to it. Through Sept. 9 at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW. 202-387-2151. phillipscollection.org.
The first show at the Luther W. Brady Gallery’s new, larger quarters in the former Corcoran Gallery draws mostly from George Washington University’s own collection, but it’s broadened by savvy borrowings. This impressive selection of color-field painting includes many mid-20th-century Washingtonians, and encompasses out-of-towners and recent work. Pictures by such noted D.C. colorists as Gene Davis and Anne Truitt contrast vivid colors with hard-edge geometry. Less solemn and newly painted is a 2017 canvas by New York’s Larry Poons, a onetime minimalist buoyantly reborn as an expressionist. Through Oct. 25 at George Washington University Luther W. Brady Gallery, Corcoran School of the Arts & Design, 500 17th St. NW. 202-994-1525.
This Maryland-born “investigative artist” began by trying to document the U.S. government’s surveillance operations, but he now uses contemporary surveillance technology for his own ends. Paglen is even about to launch his own satellite, a model of which is included in this show. He documents and memorializes off-limits places such as Area 51, the UFO-buff obsession, and the exclusion zone around the radiation-leaking Fukushima nuclear plant. The artist puckishly collects patches for military units that officially don’t exist and explores how facial-recognition software allows machines to do something once reserved for humans: interpret visual imagery. Through Jan. 6 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and F streets NW. 202-633-7970. americanart.si.edu.