Cornelius's eye is drawn to outmoded pop-culture emblems — pink flamingos, giant burger-boy statues, old cars and their gear — and elementary found shapes such as stars, squares, circles and chevrons. These symbols she arranges in grids, often printed on large sheets of hanging fabric. Two selections of such pictures are interactive: Gallery visitors can rearrange the individual pieces and, in one case, flip them to solve a puzzle on the other side. Adding to the sideshow vibe, the artist is selling individual photographic close-ups on buttons from a vending machine. (They cost two iconic quarters each.)
Aside from being fun, the show addresses the eternal philosophical dilemma of reconciling life's random phenomena with notions of a logical universe. The artist's collages arrange odd glimpses in an even way. They're also a method of conserving moments photographed over nearly 20 years. Cornelius wishes for "a pair of scissors that could cut the fabric of the world and let me keep that perfect point in time," she writes. It's just that her idea of perfection tends more toward garden gnomes than grand vistas or historic landmarks.
Clara Cornelius: Imaginary Funhouse Through Feb. 9 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville. 301-608-9101. pyramidatlanticartcenter.org.
Local painter Nan Montgomery has a long history as an abstractionist, and she even studied with Josef Albers, one of the most influential exponents of hard edges, simple colors and elemental forms. The pictures in "Intersection/Dialogues," Montgomery's Addison/Ripley Fine Art show, include some of the basic shapes found in Clara Cornelius's work, but they're painted rather than photographed. Circles, triangles and crosses (or plus signs) abound, in variations that appear systematic and very nearly functional. Thus "Decisions," a lineup of 10 small square oils, evokes a set of semaphore flags.
Montgomery's recent pictures, although built from basic parts, are trickier than Albers's straightforward homages to the square. They're seldom purely symmetrical, and might include overlapping elements. Primary colors contend with more eccentric hues, such as the lime-green of the line that bisects "Dissection." (The artist calls these thin verticals "zips," after Barnett Newman's term for his stripes.) One aqua zip, running down the right side, challenges the black, red and multiple oranges of "Intersection IV." That striking composition demands a closer look, which reveals that it — like the other pictures around it — is more loosely painted than its geometric design might suggest.
All but two of these artworks were made from 2015 to 2017. The exceptions document a detour Montgomery took about a decade ago. "Solitude" is a somber study in black, gray and shades of dark red; it's abstract, except that its thin vertical lines are topped with silhouetted buds, transforming them from zips into stalks. More explicitly floral is "Softly Speaking," which contrasts the other paintings by being pastel, as well as representational. It doesn't fit with the other pictures, but stands quite well on its own.
Nan Montgomery: Intersection/Dialogues Through Feb. 24 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-338-5180. addisonripleyfineart.com. Montgomery will discuss her work Feb. 24 at 11 a.m.
A lost youngster seeks her place in the world. The narrative of Akemi Maegawa's Metro Micro Gallery show could be a children's book, complete with artless illustrations and simple text. "Give Me Sun, Water, Soil and Seed With a Little Bit of Hope" follows the journey of a potted sprout toward a woods that might harbor and nurture it. The ecological fable is recounted on gently rounded ceramic panels, each a different color. The tale addresses suburban development and the decline of forests, using an update of an ancient craft.
The Japan-born, D.C.-based Maegawa often makes artworks that are ceramic and yet don't emulate the characteristic style of her native land's pottery. In this array of urns, tiny houses, miniature trees and illustrative panels — as well as a few drawings — the artist does include one traditional element: a sculpture of Daruma, the limbless doll that connotes perseverance. (He represents the founder of Zen Buddhism, who supposedly lost his appendages while meditating ceaselessly.) Daruma sits atop the stump of a tree, quietly observing the devastation. The figure, like the rest of this show, is playful. But Maegawa's tone is solemn and mournful.
Akemi Maegawa: Give Me Sun, Water, Soil and Seed With a Little Bit of Hope Through Feb. 17 at Metro Micro Gallery, 3409 Wilson Blvd. (Kansas Street side), Arlington. metromicrogallery.com.
Schalk van der Merwe
There are only four Schalk van der Merwe paintings on display at Artist's Proof, but they pack more intensity than a dozen gentler pictures. Taken from the South African artist's latest series, "Not So Funny Now," the portraits glower at the viewer through veils of drips, scratches and smears. Shadowy sockets nearly swallow the subjects' eyes, while red accents suggest both flesh and blood. But skin and underlying muscle don't devolve into raw meat, as in the work of Francis Bacon, whose style is one of van der Merwe's reference points.
These aren't renderings of particular people, and the gallery's note argues that "identity, likeness and gender are neither clear nor important." Yet the faces appear as bristlingly masculine as the artist's method. Van der Merwe uses sketchy charcoal lines to define basic features, giving graphic discipline to the layered, painterly images. In one portrait, the lower part of the face melts into a delta of drips, and yet the overall countenance remains lucid and sturdy. These pictures may depict shock, anger or despair, but never weakness.
Schalk van der Merwe: Not So Funny Now Through Feb. 25 at Artist's Proof, 1533 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-803-2782. aproof.net.