Despite the sway of conceptual and installation art, most artists still make stuff to hang on walls. But several local galleries are showing work that pushes away from the wall, turns it into part of the piece or gestures toward places where there are no partitions at all.
There’s only one 3-D object in “Andy Goldsworthy & David Nash: Drawings, Photographs, Sculpture and Prints,” at the new Georgetown space where Robert Brown will alternate shows with two other dealers. But these British land artists’ works on paper depict or otherwise represent their larger, site-specific endeavors. Nash’s “Ribs” is a chunk of hornbeam (also known as ironweed), carved with accordion-like folds and then charred black with a small blowtorch. The result is doubly evocative: Much of Nash’s outdoor art involves trees, and his near-abstract drawings are often done in charcoal.
The Wales-based Nash once worked for a commercial forestry group but disliked planting trees in rows. Yet he’s not averse to manipulating nature. His “Ash Dome,” planted in 1977 at a secret location in Snowdonia National Park, is a ring of trees that have been shaped, like towering bonsais, to create a semi-enclosed space. The artist’s “22 Trees of the Ash Dome, 1995” is an oil pastel that depicts both the individual trees and the entire circle. Other, simpler drawings portray simple geometric shapes or Stonehenge-like formations; all are rough and smeary in texture but elegantly composed.
Goldsworthy, who lives in Scotland, makes art that’s designed to decompose as quickly as the slo-mo natural processes of colder climes will allow. These evanescent sculptures survive only in paired photographs: One shows the individual work, while the other is a wider view that includes the artist’s handwritten procedure for constructing the piece.
The photos in this selection document runelike “paintings” made in snow on tree trunks; a pile of stones frozen horizontally to a quarry face; and a bulb-shaped nine-foot-high stack of snow slices, erected on frigid Ellesmere Island. The large-format photograph of this Arctic snow cone is the show’s heroic statement, but the more modest “Line to Follow Colors in River Stone” is no less striking. The simple arrangement of stones, glimmering under shallow water, is both beautiful and a lovely example of Goldsworthy’s ephemeral aesthetic.
The two exhibitions now at Civilian Art Projects are linked by one thing: black light. Downstairs, visitors to the second-story space are welcomed by an installation, part of Nikki Painter’s “Site/Schema,” that’s illuminated by ghostly UV radiation. So is the main room of Ryan Hill, Erick Jackson and George Jenne’s “Pan’s Pipes,” a symbolic simulation of a head shop or other “illicit space” for escapist adolescents. Adding to the make-believe store’s darkly psychedelic ambience are black walls, red-gelled windows and a haunted-house soundtrack by Heavy Breathing, Jackson’s band.
Painter’s work riffs on cityscapes and architecture, contrasting systems and anarchy, patterns and their disruption. The bulk of the Virginia artist’s show consists of works on paper, including drawings, mixed media and collage. Some of these are black and white, while others use colors worthy of being bathed in black light. These renderings burst from their one-dimensional formats into the two installations, which recall the direction Frank Stella took in the mid-’80s, when his colorful pattern paintings turned sculptural. In these pieces, Painter’s affinity for straight lines and right angles yields fruitfully to organic forms, with pillars that resemble tree trunks and dangling Mylar bits that might be leaves.
If some of the drawings in “Site/Schema” look like casual doodles, so do most of the ones in “Pan’s Pipes.” Hill’s sketches, whose subjects include skulls, the Rolling Stones’ lips logo and the imaginary head shop’s fictional proprietor, are better suited to a high school notebook than a gallery wall. Jackson’s mixed-media pieces, mostly on paper or wood, are more polished and detailed than Hill’s, but have a similar vibe. Wolfmen, wastelands and a “group grope” are among the subjects.
North Carolina’s Jenne, the only non-Washingtonian in the head-shop troika, contributes simple ink drawings on 81 / 2-by-11-inch paper that might have been swiped from the office copier. He also fabricated the shop’s centerpiece: a wood and particleboard display case stocked with heads, bottles, hash pipes and more skulls, all made from candle wax. A wax pipe is not a practical item, of course, but then “Pan’s Pipes” is far from a literal-minded replica of a counterculture shop. It’s a place where the three artists’ sex, drugs and X-rated comic-book images can play off one another, amplifying their effect. It seems a little odd that the show will close before Halloween.
Excavating a lost world of cigarettes, cocktails and boatlike sedans, David Kramer’s “Prequel to the Sequel: Waiting for a Hollywood Ending” looks ready for the Rat Pack to drop by. The Washington-educated New York artist has even transformed Heiner Contemporary’s northern wall with multicolored, faux-rustic “stone,” suggesting one of the modernist rec rooms or ski lodges where his turtlenecked hedonists practice boozy indolence and rueful musing.
Kramer identifies himself as “a child of the 1970s,” yet his text-heavy drawings are more redolent of the preceding decade. Clearly inspired by magazine illustrations and advertisements, these works on paper (and a few canvases) soften crisp lines with loose color. Their look and sensibility is part Life magazine, part Playboy Advisor. But Kramer’s ironic depiction of postwar American affluence is tempered by contemporary pessimism and regret.
“Looking back, I probably should have wanted more,” reflects one of his stock characters, which seems an apt self-reproach. Kramer’s work is skillful and stylish, and doesn’t seem to want more than that.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
On view through Oct. 22 at Robert Brown Gallery, 1662 33rd St. NW; 202-338-0353, robertbrowngallery.com.
On view through Oct. 22 at Civilian Art Projects, 1019 Seventh St. NW; 202-607-3804; civilianartprojects.com.
On view through Oct. 22 at Heiner Contemporary, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-338-0072; heinercontemporary.com.