Maria Jose Lavin’s “Venus Anorexica” is on view through Aug. 18 in “Clay in Transit” at the Mexican Cultural Institute. (Maria Jose Lavin/Mexican Cultural Institute)

Simple ceramics made of red clay — undecorated and roughly formed — look as though they may have been pulled from a primeval tomb or kitchen midden. Unless, that is, they take the shapes of Barbie-like dolls, as in Maria Jose Lavin’s “Venus Anorexica.” This set of 27 partly dismembered and thoroughly decontextualized toys is one of several pieces in the Mexican Cultural Institute’s “Clay in Transit” that offer an ironic contrast to today’s extruded-plastic, shrink-wrapped world.

Ana Gomez is up to something similar, although of the seven artists’ works, hers have the most refined surfaces. Her dinner plates would fit in any upscale home, except that they’re adorned with collaged pop-art imagery. Seemingly more elegant is a series of porcelain containers, which on closer inspection turn out to be replicas of styrofoam instant-ramen cups.

Maria Jose de la Macorra also makes the ephemeral solid and enduring, although her subject is nature. An array of shapes, all white and wall-mounted, is titled “Clouds.” Nearby, five long strands of ceramic pearls are suspended from the ceiling and pooled on the floor. This is “Rain,” fluid yet harder-edged than hail.

Other contributors look more to the past, or a mythic conception of it. Saul Kaminer’s 3-D abstractions hint at pre-Columbian motifs, while Gustavo Perez’s elaborately patterned vessels, incised with partial cuts, suggest ritual objects. Perla Krauze’s three installations range from the simple — a low wall of black bricks — to a baroque array of simulated curiosities in black, ivory and gold.

Paloma Torres, who curated the show, made a series of standing columns that appear delicate despite their imposing size. They’re composed of segments that allude to the biological, whether human or insect. But the individual clay portions also look a bit like fabric that’s been wrapped, leaving a loose end that appears to be flapping, although it’s fixed in place. By preserving a sense of the clay’s original flexibility, Torres’ pillars prompt double takes as surely as do clay Barbies or porcelain ramen cups.

Clay in Transit On view through Aug. 18 at the Mexican Cultural Institute, 2829 16th St. NW. 202-728-1628. instituteofmexicodc.org.


Evan Reed’s "Breaking Camp," which is made from recycled wood tables, is currently on view at Black Rock Center for the Arts. (Evan Reed/Black Rock Center for the Arts)
Evan Reed and Lori Anne Boocks

Woodworker Evan Reed respects his material’s original form, even when that form isn’t natural. Some of the work in “New and Recent Sculptures,” at Black Rock Center for the Arts, evokes trees and branches. But the artist, who teaches at Georgetown University, also incorporates found objects. Several of the show’s pieces perch on tables; one includes wooden crutches, repurposed from human to sculptural support.

An able carpenter, Reed constructs detailed scaffolding for large model houses. The table-mounted “Breaking Camp,” is straightforward — except for a gap at the center where the table is missing a leaf. “Plan and Frame,” erected atop five drafting tables, is more surreal: Skeletons of houses flow into each other as though they’re conjoined quintuplets. As in much of Reed’s work, the result is clean, precise and a bit eerie.

Hazy as though seen through mist, Lori Anne Boocks’s paintings resemble impressionistic landscapes. But her pictures in “The Shape of Memories,” upstairs from Reed’s show, actually mean to portray the forgotten and the misremembered.

The Germantown artist’s pictures begin with charcoal scrawls of text, overlapping and mostly indecipherable. Paint, usually earth-toned, washes over the words, so that from a distance, the charcoal gestures resemble stone seams or streaks of gray clouds. Inspired, in part, by relatives who have suffered memory loss, Boocks’s artworks appear both airy and solid. Something of substance is there, even if it can’t be grasped.

Evan Reed: New and Recent Sculptures. Lori Anne Boocks: The Shape of Memories On view through Aug. 26 at Black Rock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Dr., Germantown. 301-528-2260. blackrockcenter.org/gallery.


Bob Allen’s "Another Treacherous Image” is on view at Touchstone Gallery. (Bob Allen/Touchstone Gallery)
The Art of Engagement

As the presidential election loomed a year ago, Touchstone Gallery presented “Art as Politics.” Now, the venue’s “The Art of Engagement” returns to many themes of that exhibition, but in a somewhat grimmer mood. Bob Allen’s painting of a pipe bomb, a wink at Surrealist Rene Magritte’s 1929 painting of a pipe, is one of very few smile-inducing entries.

The artworks were selected from a national call, pared from 750 to about 70 by American University Museum Director Jack Rasmussen. Many pieces refer, directly or otherwise, to the post-election Women’s March. Susan Hazard’s “Struggle,” for example, is an all-white mixed-media assemblage with a vulva at its center.

Among the other subjects are police shootings of African American youths and the partial ban on arrivals from seven majority-Muslim nations. Willette Battle’s “Safe Trayvon” attempts to protect the young man with a set of blond pigtails, while Vidya Vijayasekharan’s “Then There Were Seven” stacks atop sand seven boxes, embellished with the Arabic words for such ideals as “wisdom,” “freedom” and “peace.” These might seem to be universal, but concepts that prevail in an art gallery don’t always triumph in the voting booth.

The Art of Engagement On view through Aug. 24 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW. 202-347-2787. touchstonegallery.com.


Mary Edna Fraser’s "Boston II (MA)“ is on view at Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery. (Mary Edna Fraser/Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery)
Mary Edna Fraser

Batik, an ancient fabric-dying technique associated especially with Indonesia, is traditionally used to produce decorative patterns. But Mary Edna Fraser, whose work is now at Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, employs the process to make vividly hued landscapes on fabric, with two contemporary twists. “Rising Tides” depicts bays, rivers and deltas from the sort of airborne vantage points unavailable before the invention of aircraft and satellites. (The South Carolina artist is a pilot.) Also, the show focuses mostly on marshy terrain that’s likely to be inundated as the planet warms and the oceans swell.

From the sky, Fraser details low-lying sites in Alaska, Bangladesh and elsewhere. One atypical painting, rendered on lace that perforates the image, is a less specific view of a meandering waterway. Also uncharacteristic is “Gulf Oil Spill,” whose swirling purple sheen represents another sort of environmental threat. Most often, though, Fraser’s viewpoint is detached and serene. From high above the surface, people are invisible, and their effects seemingly insignificant. The only human attributes that matter are Fraser’s eye and hand.

Rising Tides: Mary Edna Fraser On view through Aug. 26 at Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, 1632 U St. NW. 202-483-8600. smithcenter.org/gallery.