A palimpsest is a tablet or a sheet of parchment from which writing has been removed so the material can be reused. These days, the term is most often used metaphorically, as in "Palimpsestus: Image & Memory" at AMA|Art Museum of the Americas. The presentation of this ideologically pointed survey of Iberian and Latin American art is literally layered, with some pieces hung atop walls papered with news clippings.
The exhibition includes works by more than 30 artists and is divided into three parts. "A(rt)nachronism," heavy on paintings, showcases modernist styles that looked revolutionary in the first part of the past century. The other two galleries emphasize prints, photographs and drawings — and war and exile. "The Bestiary" focuses on oppressive totalitarian governments in Spain and Latin America during the 1970s; "Diaspora: Reconstructing Identities" features artists who fled during or after the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War, seeking refuge across the Atlantic.
Among the most evocative entries are drawings by Madrid's Javier de Villota and prints by Barcelona-born, Santiago-based Roser Bru. The pictures in de Villota's "The Grays," named for the colloquial term for Franco's security cops, are drawn softly but ominously in pencil and pastel. The lack of detail, notably in the faces, is sinister. Bru also employs an artfully unfinished style to depict such emblems of 20th-century European horror as Anne Frank and Franz Kafka. In an example of what the show's notes call "blurred" authorship, she sketches a well-known Robert Capa photograph of a Spanish Civil War casualty.
Grouped together so tightly that they nearly overlap, such pieces convey both social and aesthetic tumult. But in this telling of modern art history, political violence overshadows formal innovation.
Palimpsestus: Image & Memory Through March 25 at the AMA|Art Museum of the Americas, 201 18th St. NW. 202-370-0147. museum.oas.org.
Sections of newspaper pages, painted with painstaking accuracy, serve as palimpsests in "Confrontation and Disruption," Xiaoze Xie's show at the Stanford in Washington Art Gallery. Xie renders tales of conflict as printed in European, American and Chinese papers. Unlike Andy Warhol, who simplified when he painted tabloid pages, Xie reproduces every element, including text and images that bleed through from adjacent pages. (Sometimes, these flaws are deliberately exaggerated.) The effect is visually precise but essentially metaphorical. It represents the errors, omissions and misinterpretations of history as first reported in newspapers of record.
The Chinese artist, who divides his time between Beijing and California, doesn't restrict himself to articles about his birthplace. Among his subjects are a suicide bombing in Pakistan and political protests in Thailand. Xie also paints photos posted on Weibo, the microblogging site from which he appropriates pictures of Beijing smog and an earthquake's aftermath. (Both series were painted in oil, but the newsprint replicas are on canvas and the Internet ones gain a machine-age vibe from aluminum panels.)
"It is necessary to convert a transient image into one with more permanence," Xie says of his work in the show's catalogue. Traditionally, the permanence of an oil painting matched the venerability of its historical, religious or mythological theme (or a portrait subject's desire for lasting esteem). But "Confrontation and Disruption" memorializes specific events to express the endlessness of human strife. The newsprint crumbles; the struggle endures.
Xiaoze Xie: Confrontation and Disruption Through March 31 at Stanford in Washington Art Gallery, 2655 Connecticut Ave. NW. siw.stanford.edu/art-gallery/about-gallery.
The large mixed-media paintings in Lucinda Friendly Murphy's "The Art of Evolution" pulsate at both the micro and macro levels. Many of the Art14 show's science-inspired near-abstractions bustle with tiny forms that collectively suggest the view through a microscope.
The D.C. artist joyously crowds the picture plane, usually with cell-like circles and ovals, although "Neurons/One Second #3" substitutes collaged postage stamps as its building blocks. The preponderance of blue in "Waves of Connections #14" equates neural pathways with oceanic circulation. Microcosmic vistas merge into the sweep of space in "Galaxies Spinning #7," which spatters gold on a black backdrop as if the constellations are strands of cosmic jewelry.
Murphy is a former landscape architect who began her art career as a representational painter. There are still traces of that previous style in pictures such as "Brain, Neurons #9," in which strings of green leaves spiral around red ganglia. By juxtaposing everyday objects with images of things that can't be seen, or sometimes even imagined, Murphy conjures the natural world's dynamic abundance.
The Art of Evolution: Lucinda Friendly Murphy Through Feb. 27 at Art14 at Coldwell Banker, 1617 14th St. NW. 202-905-3177. lucindafriendlymurphy.com.
At the back of SPACE4, the nomadic gallery now parked at Union Market, JD Deardourff offers copies of a comic book titled "Uncanny Fantastic." If the title weren't enough to identify the D.C. artist's source of inspiration, Deardourff actually borrowed the "Fantastic" from the vintage logo of Marvel Comics' "Fantastic Four." That magazine's visual style was devised by Jack Kirby, who's a far bigger influence on Deardourff than, say, Roy Lichtenstein.
"Uncanny Fantastic," the title of the show as well as the comic, consists of screen prints of an uninhabited super-universe. Deardourff riffs on Kirby's use of hot colors, bold lines, simulated motion and vertiginous compositions, yet banishes the heroes and villains. Aside from a few sets of massive tentacles, there are no apparent life-forms in these pictures, which come in various shapes and sizes. If there are humans inside those skyscrapers and helicopters, they're not visible.
Given the tight quarters of SPACE4, a converted 40-foot shipping container, Deardourff could have tried to craft a more immersive experience. But to step into "Uncanny Fantastic" isn't to enter a single, unified dimension. The action is divided across individual rectangles, like a comic's panels. At his most exuberant, though, Deardourff rivals Kirby's ability to blast the margins to get at an uncanny cosmos beyond the page.
JD Deardourff: Uncanny Fantastic Through Feb. 23 at SPACE4 at Union Market, 1309 Fifth St. NE. 202-315-1321. culturaldc.org/space4-1.