The term “creative destruction” is most often associated with economics, but it could just as easily be applied to radical 20th-century visual artists. Among them was Lucio Fontana, an Italian-Argentine painter and theorist who began puncturing and slashing his canvases in the 1940s. One of his simple drawings, 1960’s “Study for Eleven Oils,” is included in “Beyond the Frame: Spatial Composition After Lucio Fontana.” But the Contemporary Wing show consists primarily of work by young artists Micheal Cor, Toym Imao and Ali Miller (along with musical compositions by Nathan Lincoln-DeCusatis).
Of the three, only Miller literally carries her art outside the frame. The motifs of her combine-paintings, which often incorporate 3-D sticks made of clay, continue onto (and sometimes into) the adjacent walls. She mixes abstraction and representation, depicting domestic interiors — a bathroom in “Good Morning Baltimore,” for example — at the center of pieces that devolve into line, color and texture. If Miller’s work feels unsettled and unfinished, that’s intentional.
Cor’s method owes less to Fontana than Marcel Duchamp, who challenged the cult of the art object by displaying such everyday items as a bicycle wheel and (most notoriously) a urinal. Among Cor’s pieces in this show are a tire and a large shipping tarp, both embellished with artless strokes of paint. The repurposed tire is painted with a white circle and titled “Painting Degree Zero,” a reference to French theorist Roland Barthes’s “Writing Degree Zero.” The connection may be tenuous, but Barthes and Cor do share a preference for artistic directness.
Where Miller’s art is unstable, Imao’s is actively violent. He specializes in mixed-media sculptures of big-name contemporary artists, rendered in images, words and fireworks. He literally explodes his portraits of such art-world stars as Jeff Koons (seen this year at Connersmith), Cindy Sherman and Ai Weiwei (included here). The Contemporary Wing show opened with the detonation and burning of its third Imao piece, a rendering of Damien Hirst. In addition to the burned painting, each work features a mask enclosed within a box; through its eyes can be glimpsed a fiery video of the process that created the charred visage. Imao’s work doesn’t look anything like Fontana’s, yet both artists have a fundamentally orderly approach to anarchy.
For anyone who has seen Robert T. Cole’s sculptures, the surprising pieces in his “Material Power — Pure Metal” exhibit will be the smaller, more domestic ones. His best-known work, made of stainless steel and sometimes interlaced with copper, is designed for the outdoors or grand interior spaces. His statues stand at public buildings throughout the region — one was commissioned by this newspaper — and are often seen in the blocks near his Logan Circle studio.
Sculptors who work in metal generally emphasize supple abstract forms or sheer industrial might. Cole’s approach is more whimsical and usually figurative. “Father Time” is a bearded biker looking over his shoulder as the wind pushes at his hair and jacket; “Bass Player” is a faceless musician gazing down eyelessly at his low-slung instrument.
The exhibition at Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space includes furniture, notably the large, sunburst-backed “Humanity’s Throne,” as well as some less grand tables and chairs. Cole is also showing “Abstract Portrait,” a neo-Cubist face in 3-D; the toy-like “Rocking Reindeer”; and such steel renderings of foliage as “FacTree.” The scale and texture of Cole’s work are often imposing, but the imagery and the quilt-like assembly of shapes and materials ensures a playful demeanor. This is lighthearted heavy metal.
The two artists showing together in “Timeless,” at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, use venerable media to depict familiar subjects. Kevin Frank does mostly posed still lifes, while Jonathan Ralston specializes in details of classical (or neoclassical) buildings. The former works in encaustic, a mix of pigment and wax, while the latter uses oils. Both are representational painters, but the most crucial thing they have in common is a focus on light.
Encaustic is by no means unusual these days, but the fast-drying medium is rarely used with the sort of precision Frank achieves. The painter isn’t simply aiming for the most realistic possible rendering, as his loosely painted backdrops reveal. But he does try to get highlights and reflections exactly right. No wonder he’s drawn to rounded objects, whether teapots, oranges or the globe featured in “Lost at Sea.” Evoking sunlight on a curved surface is what gives his portrayals of everyday items a celestial glow.
Ralston’s canvases include two interiors of a French abbey in which the sun blares through vaulted windows. Generally, though, the painter is more attuned to the play of shadow and indirect light, often near the ceiling or floor. His pictures include numerous close-ups of the bottoms of classical columns, from both local and European buildings. Like Frank, Ralston is drawn to symmetrical arcs. Whether it’s part of an apple or a plinth, a section of a circle captures light in a way that’s both elementary and seemingly infinite.
The title of Morton Fine Art’s current group show, “Works With Paper,” suggests art that uses paper as its medium. The exhibition does feature a few collages that combine paper with other substances, including plastic and metal. G.A. Gardner arrays shards of cut, scraped and over-painted magazine clippings on sheets of mylar to make such montages as “Dangerous,” a striking wall of brick-like shapes on a black field. The show consists mostly, however, of works on paper. These aren’t especially experimental, but many of them are appealingly bold, both in technique and size.
The paintings on paper, many of them representational, include Laurel Hausler’s portrayals of dolls in wax and oil, with one picture executed on a coffee-stained sheet. Rosemary Feit Covey makes stark black-and-white woodcuts that depict girls or women, often accompanied by animals. (There’s also an angrier-looking one that incorporates red.) Using watery acrylics in darker hot colors, Choichun Leung executes billowing abstractions that suggest radio-telescope images of distant galaxies.
In one of the show’s largest pieces, Victor Ekpuk pairs pastel with graphite to depict a pulsing blue orb on a field of glyphs. The most memorable pictures are Vonn Sumner’s Mediterranean (or perhaps Red Sea) cityscapes, which achieve a contemporary air via an ancient form: They’re executed in tempera, with a warm-hued palette that suits their subject.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
through Tuesday at Contemporary Wing, 1412 14th St. NW. 202-730-5037. www.contemporarywing.com .
through Oct. 6 at Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space, 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-783-2963. www.zenithgallery.com.
through Oct. 13 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-965-4601. www.callowayart.com .
through Oct. 9 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. www.mortonfineart.com .