Sleek yet substantial, abstract metal sculptures have a sense of power and accomplishment. These things are made, after all, with industrial tools and substances. The five artists included in “Shining Stars,” the Zenith Gallery-curated exhibition at the Gallery at 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, work in different materials and at various scales, yet share industrial-age skills and sensibilities.
The show ranges from the tabletop-size abstractions of Paul Martin Wolff, a local lawyer whose work is also on display at Heurich Gallery, to Barton Rubenstein’s massive stainless-steel sculptures, which are designed for the outdoors. If the most static of his pieces, “Screen (Fountain),” seems incomplete, it’s because it’s supposed to include running water.
There are also four mixed-media wall pieces by Joan Konkel, anchored to painted canvases or stark aluminum panels; she sometimes breaks their rectangular planes by hanging strips of canvas or mesh ruffles from them.
Metal can’t dangle like fabric, but many of these pieces suggest motion. Wolff renders soft curves with such hard materials as bronze and acrylic, and he gives them such titles as “Dancer.” His most intriguing piece here, “The Wave,” is made of slightly translucent black glass that, like dark water, offers a limited view of what’s beneath the surface. Alluding to the ocean in a different way, two of Julie Giardini’s steel, bronze and copper pieces take boatlike forms.
Some of the steel sculptures taunt gravity. Rubenstein’s “Wave Roller” stacks circles and slashes to evoke a swell that’s about break onshore, and his “Breathe” is a pileup of metal lozenges that spirals 81 / 2 feet in the air. David Hubbard’s contributions include “Monument to Up,” which places a chevron atop a sphere atop a rounded pyramid, and “Ascension Model,” in which squiggles of seemingly floating steel are joined by three curved rods. It’s not quite an illusion, since the rods are visible, as much as an expression of strength. When artists command metal to hover in space, even the airiest of sculptures is a show of force.
One of the purported goals of post-painterly abstraction was to eliminate the surface: Pigment and canvas would become one. Some 50 years later, abstract painters are emphasizing the skin of their work, using glazes, resins and other materials to create a topside sheen. Clyde Fowler, whose “Pictorial Choreography” is showing at Long View Gallery, blends diamond dust into oil paint to add a subtle sparkle to pictures on canvas and paper.
Fowler arrays blurry-edged blocks of color with smaller shapes and occasional lines, evoking early-20th-century abstraction and sometimes Paul Klee. The colors are mostly muted, with lots of gray and tan, although the artist occasionally interjects a hot shade of orange. He generally uses a vertical format, perhaps to prevent his paintings from being seen as landscapes. (One untitled work, part of a suite of nine, nonetheless does: Its glimmer of yellow on a field of dark reds and near-blacks suggests light in the distance.) The paintings on canvas are more heavily worked, with some scratching of the paint; the ones on paper are more serene and, in some ways, more appealing. But both glisten alluringly, their surfaces attracting attention to their depths.
At one time, painters traveled into remote areas to capture scenes of untrammeled wilderness; after the technology developed, photographers did the same. But that era is over, both ecologically and aesthetically. These days, photographers journey far from home to demonstrate that pristine territory no longer exists. Mads Gamdrup’s “Renunciation” series, shown this year at the Corcoran, revealed trash and tire tracks in deserts far from his Danish home. German photographer Friederike Brandenburg’s “Left Behind,” on display at the Goethe-Institut, focuses on abandoned vehicles, rotting or rusting in picturesque areas of Norway or New Zealand.
Although she prefers rustic regions, Brandenburg doesn’t always visit unoccupied ones; the fish drying in one picture indicate recent human activity. And the photographer has something of a romantic approach to trash: She doesn’t depict the banal plastic or paper junk that humans have allowed to blanket the globe, focusing usually on the carcasses of buses, trucks, boats and planes. (She says she couldn’t make such photographs in her homeland, because Germans are quick to drag off metal hulks to sell as scrap.)
It’s not hard to spot the industrial remains in these large-format photos, but the detritus is just a small part of compositions that feature snowy peaks, black-soiled volcanic landscapes and rocky, wave-flogged seashores. One image, of a wrecked truck that’s being overtaken by vegetation, even suggests that nature may someday win this struggle. More scrap-metal scavengers wouldn’t hurt, though.
Suggesting a selection of particularly artful daily-newspaper feature shots, the pictures in “7.4.11: Photographs by Facing Change: Documenting America” show Independence Day celebrations from the eastern half of the United States: Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Chicago and the District are featured, along with small-town Iowa and Louisiana. Mostly in color, the images range from the epic (a long exposure of a smoky fireworks display in Connecticut) to the playful (a woman in Illinois who seems to have a balloon for a head).
The District photos (by former Washington Post staffer Lucian Perkins) depict the National Independence Day parade; the Philadelphia ones show a block party at a public-housing complex. The exhibition at the Carroll Square Gallery hits many appropriate notes — history, immigration, dressed-up and dressed-down — without coalescing into a coherent tune. But any newspaper photo editor would have been glad to have them for the July 5 edition.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
on view through Jan. 7 at the Gallery at 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-783-2963; www.zenithgallery.com .
on view through Nov. 6 at Long View Gallery, 1234 Ninth St. NW; 202-232-4788; www.longviewgallery.com .
on view through Nov. 4 at the Goethe-Institut, 812 Seventh St. NW; 202-289-1200; www.goethe.de/washington .
on view through Nov. 18 at Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW; 202-638-3000; www.carrollsquare.com .