Anticipating our future cyborg selves, some contemporary artists construct mixed-media pieces in which body parts meld with mechanical or electronic devices. Matt Wilt does something similar in the pieces in “Hand/Eye,” his show at Brentwood Arts Exchange. But the Upstate New York artist’s principal material is far from high-tech, and his inspirations are not all futuristic. Wilt is a ceramic alchemist who can make formed, fired clay look like metal, rubber or plastic — or appear as ancient as the pre-Columbian Peruvian pottery that’s among his influences.
“Hand/Eye” refers to a craftsman’s ability to coordinate dexterity and vision, but in this case it also refers to the literal hands that protrude from surrealistic ceramic collages. In the show’s title piece, a hand stands upright beside a sphere that might be a ruptured eyeball or a rusted cannonball. A metallic finish suggests the latter, as does Wilt’s enthusiasm for combining organic forms with machine-made components. His creations both celebrate and subvert the human body.
Wilt mixes materials as well as shapes, combining stoneware and porcelain with steel, concrete, wooden branches and clear glass. The last material is employed for flasks and balls, sometimes filled with water. These components suggest outmoded science experiments or the moist interiors of various bodily systems, while sending additional mixed messages. In “Aneurysm,” a title that invokes the brain gone awry, small bubbles ascend steadily from the bottom of a globe as if everything is working properly.
Descriptions of Wilt’s work may make it sound disturbing, and some viewers might find it so. Yet the oddity is offset by immaculate craft and sensuous surfaces. Wilt’s hybrid assemblages are as beautiful as they are strange.
Matt Wilt: Hand/Eye Through Aug. 17 at Brentwood Arts Exchange, 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood.
Clarity emerges from darkness in “Contrast,” a Pyramid Atlantic Art Center show of three artists who etch images into printable matrices. The least traditional is Curt Belshe, a New Yorker who designs 3-D-printed figures, photographs them in posed scenarios and exposes the resulting pictures to light-sensitive plates. Jenny Freestone and Jake Muirhead, both Marylanders, uses such venerable techniques as etching, drypoint and aquatint. All three make monochromatic pictures, although Muirhead sometimes replaces black with dark shades of red or green.
Belshe’s collagelike compositions retain a digital vibe yet have the rich tones of prints and a link to art history. They’re updates of Goya’s 1799 series “Los Caprichos,” whose best-known print is “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.” Belshe recycles that title in his set, which uses modern technology to chronicle Goya-worthy contemporary upsets.
Among Freestone’s contributions are detailed renderings of natural forms on inky backgrounds, sometimes arranged as triptychs below blocks of black disrupted by just a few white wisps. Not literally the darkest but surely the most severe of her pieces here is a lithograph of a pile of human skulls at Siem Reap, site of Cambodia’s largest war museum.
Muirhead’s prints are simpler in subject matter yet dazzlingly complex in execution. There are landscapes in this selection, but most of the pictures are of a single thing: a bird, a flower, a woman’s snub-nosed face. An oil can is an apt subject for Muirhead, because its battered metal evokes the scraping of copper that yielded the intricate etching. But then all of Muirhead’s prints appear to materialize from a welter of scratches, haphazard yet utterly assured.
Curt Belshe, Jenny Freestone, Jake Muirhead: Contrast Through Aug. 18 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville.
In 1989, when the Corcoran Gallery bailed on a controversial Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective titled “The Perfect Moment,” the traveling show was exhibited instead at the Washington Project for the Arts. To mark the anniversary, both WPA and what remains of the Corcoran (now folded into George Washington University) mounted exhibitions. The GWU Corcoran show consists mostly of documents; WPA’s “There Are No Shadows Here: The Perfect Moment at 30” displays photographs by George Dureau, who died in 2014, and D’Angelo Lovell Williams, who was born in 1992.
Something of a mentor to Mapplethorpe, Dureau often photographed nude African American men. So did Mapplethorpe, of course, but in a slicker, more idealized mode. Mapplethorpe’s pictures have “no sense of place” and their “shadows are mostly absent,” writes curator Tiona Nekkia McClodden in her notes on the show.
Dureau’s black-and-white portraits are also aestheticized and sometimes include full-frontal nudity, but they have less of a fashion-magazine vibe. For one thing, Dureau often depicted amputees, a challenge to some viewers’ sense of what might constitute a perfect moment.
Williams makes portraits of himself as a gay man who is “not thin or white,” as he writes in a statement. Rather than emulate Mapplethorpe’s visual hymns to flawless masculinity, his color photos feature messy details and gender-blurring poses. As a photographic subject, Williams appears exposed and vulnerable. Yet he, unlike Mapplethorpe’s subjects, controls the finished image.
There Are No Shadows Here: The Perfect Moment at 30 Through Aug. 17 at Washington Project for the Arts, 2124 Eighth St. NW.
Seizing the perfect moment is key for photographers of people on the move, whether on the street or the stage. Most of the pictures in Antonia Tricarico’s Lost Origins Gallery show, “Frame of Mind,” depict punk-rock musicians in performance. Working in both black-and-white and color, Tricarico conveys action by capturing limbs and instruments at angles that play against the picture frame. One photo, stretched around a corner of the gallery, cracks open the rectangular format.
The pictures, plus some text, are from Tricarico’s recent photo book that shares the exhibition’s title. The emphasis is on women, many of them from the District, where the Italian-bred photographer has lived for much of the past 20 years. Also included are a superimposed portrait of the three members of the Messthetics and some offstage candids of Fugazi. (Tricarico is married to Joe Lally, bassist for both bands.) Whether hanging out with musicians between sets or pressing up against the stage while they play, Tricarico seeks intimacy as well as energy.
Antonia Tricarico: Frame of Mind Through Aug. 11 at Lost Origins Gallery, 3110 Mount Pleasant St. NW.