Among the individualistic works on display in “Window on Weimar,” at Robert Brown Gallery, there’s one piece made for mass distribution. The 1919 poster depicts a beckoning worker and extols the then-new national assembly as the “cornerstone of the German socialist republic.” Designer Max Pechstein’s vision was not to be fulfilled. Hitler came to power in 1933, and one of his targets was “decadent” culture. Two of the eight artists represented in this show, George Grosz and William Sharp, escaped to New York, while Lea Grundig found refuge in Palestine. One of the others, Erich Salomon, died at Auschwitz.
Salomon was a news photographer with what was then a startlingly candid style. His views of international conferences, including one attended by Mussolini, are the only photos here. Most of the show is devoted to prints, although there are drawings by Sharp (born Leon Schliefer) and Otto Dix. All were made between 1916 and 1935, and mostly in the ’20s.
Not all the images are the sort that would disturb a censor. Some of Dix’s etchings portray carnival acts, including a man on horseback dressed as an American Indian warrior (long a fascination of German pop culture). Max Beckmann portrays everyday scenes, including a merry-go-round and ice skating, in delicate lithographs and etchings. Such Grosz works as “Just Half a Pound” (in which a butcher shop offers human flesh) and “Sex Murder in the Ackerstrasse” are disturbing, yet not specifically political.
Other pictures, however, are aimed in the general direction of the Nazi Party and its interests. Grundig’s “The Witch” shows a Grimm-like fairy tale in the foreground, with pollution-spewing factories to the rear. Sharp’s richly textured drawings of a bouncer and robed judges suggest corruption with every charcoal stroke. Kathe Kollwitz’s woodcuts eloquently employ black to evoke death and mourning. Her “The Mothers,” in which figures huddle in a circle while faces peer out, is from a series that mourned the effects of war.
On view through May 24 at Robert Brown Gallery, 1662 33rd St. NW; 202-338-0353, www.robertbrowngallery.com.
AGreek-born artist who settled in Washington after a long stint in Ohio, Athena Tacha is best known as a landscape architect. Her local projects include the plaza at Wisconsin Place, the shopping complex at Friendship Heights. There are sketches of such schemes in Tacha’s current exhibition at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, but also works that are not directly tied to her architectural practice. That’s why the show is called “Drawings: Private and Public, 1977-2007.”
Tacha’s landscape work often involves swooping forms and multiple terraces, motifs that can also be seen in her abstract drawings. “ComoWaves-Light” and “ComoWaves-Dark” are both constructed from whorls that abut and sometimes overlap each other. Each is on black paper, but where the former was drawn with silver ink, the latter uses black hot glue. The artist’s layering of glue gives her work a painterly quality, making texture as important as color — or more so, when the piece is black-on-black.
A series of pieces on paper feature thick, shimmering orbs, sometimes suggesting close-ups of the solar surface. While “S-Strings” is made entirely of tinseled hot glue, other works add sand or powder to the medium (which in one case is silicone rather than glue). That provides richer, more mottled hues, whether Tacha is evoking the sun or — in a piece that uses the archetypal “Greek blue” — the sky. She also employs an airbrush to apply acrylic inks, another technique that preserves a sense of the pigment’s fluidity even after it dries.
The architectural drawings, supplemented by photographs of finished projects, range from the specific to the conceptual. At their simplest, Tacha’s sinuous designs show a strong kinship with her abstract work. The “public” informs the “private,” and a steady aesthetic sensibility links them both.
On view through May 25 at Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW; 202-328-0088; www.marshamateykagallery.com.
For millennia, pigments were derived directly from plants, metals and gems. More recently, synthetic dyes were developed, and human-made contaminants began discoloring the natural world. These are among the motifs of “Rewilding,” Julie Wolfe’s show at Hemphill Fine Arts. Amid the paintings and mixed-media works are two sets of jars that contain brightly hued water. The larger of them, “Bioscope,” features more than a hundred bottles whose contents are fuchsia and blue, yellow and green. The colors result from plant and animal extractions, but also from industrial pollutants.
Among the listed “Bioscope” tints are indigo, squid ink, henna, beet juice, broccoli and blueberries (the last three from D.C. farmers markets). The smaller piece, “Waterway,” includes samples from the Anacostia, Potomac and Rock Creek, as well as melted snow collected in New York’s SoHo.
The colored-water assemblages are just two of more than 20 works, but they’re integral to Wolfe’s vision. The artist is trying to find a vantage point within nature, rather than making art with the detachment from (and implied superiority to) the environment that’s characteristic of traditional Western painting and sculpture. Her “Yes (self-referential)” is a mirrored piece that turns the spectator’s gaze back on itself.
Wolfe’s approach doesn’t always yield unprecedented results. Such paintings as “Kingdom Come I” and “Rewilding 4” are lovely and complex, with an impressive sense of depth that suggests clouded skies or muddied waters. But aside from their preference for natural, mutating hues over bright, simple ones, these pictures are not far removed from the color-field style that began in the 1960s. Adding simple outline drawings or crisp, multicolored targets atop the hazy grounds doesn’t significantly change the effect.
According to the gallery’s news release, Wolfe seeks to discard “an anthropocentric viewpoint.” That may not really be achievable, but people can certainly become more conscious of their interrelationship with nature. As “Rewilding” demonstrates, that awareness can both engross and alarm.
On view through May 18 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW; 202-234-5601,www.hemphillfinearts.com.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.