Wavelengths: June 2011

Reprinted from The Washington Post Lifestyle

 ‘Wavelengths’: Chock-full of theory, yet ethereal

By Mark Jenkins, Published: June 16

The work of four female artists who decided to hang around together, “Wavelengths’’ is a quartet of site-specific installations that are suspended in midair. The pieces make fruitful use of the two-level space at Anacostia’s Honfleur Gallery , especially the larger room on the first floor. The artists’ individual statements are laden with theory, but their art is agreeably airy.

The simplest of the four is local artist Alexandra R. Zealand’s untitled cascade of used coffee filters, whose array of tan and brown hues suggests a swarm of moths. Most of the filters cluster near the floor, but some flit higher, providing a sense of motion.

Zealand’s quiet piece is upstairs, next to the show’s loudest one, Jessica Braiterman’s “And the Gold Returns to the Rhine.’’ This Wagnerian title is attached to a collection of fabric webs — all in light, bright colors — that hover over a pile of small, upholstered shapes on the floor. The Pennsylvania artist writes, “I have long been attracted to the line in space,’’ and her work resembles abstract expressionism that has been pulled off a canvas and dangled in air. It also suggests nature, with small bits of paper that might be leaves attached to strands that could be moss.

Downstairs, Yasmin Spiro’s “Xanadu’’ uses rope, burlap and red thread to depict “the city as an organism,’’ while Gretchen Schermerhorn’s “Call and Response’’ riffs on sound and image. The wall patterns of Spiro’s work could represent streets, or edges of steel and concrete, but the piece’s central elements are a suspended rope bridge and a hanging burlap pod, both of which have a homespun appeal. Rather than urban, they feel rustic — more redolent of Spiro’s native Jamaica than her current home, Brooklyn.

“Call and Response’’ consists of some 40 prints on squares of roughly LP- cover-size handmade paper hanging in partially overlapping patterns on both sides of the gallery. The individual images were inspired by the voices of the local artist’s friends and family, and the resulting sounds are supposed to be part of the installation. The audio portion wasn’t working when I visited the gallery, but that didn’t prevent Schermerhorn’s piece from being the most alluring of the four. With their muted-color images of nature at both visible and microscopic levels, the squares work as individual prints but also hang together splendidly.

‘Documents’ at Vivid

A few blocks away at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions, Ayodamola Okunseinde and Yulia Graham are exhibiting 11 portraits of local musicians and artists they identify as “underground.’’ Included are poet and performer Holly Bass, punk originators Ian MacKaye and Ian Svenonius, graffiti artist Tim Conlon and songwriter Justin Moyer, who performs in semi-drag under the name Edie Sedgwick. (For the record: I know several of these people, and Moyer works for The Washington Post.)

About half of the pieces in “Documents: Alternative Guide to D.C. Underground’’ are artfully scuffed, large-format, black-and-white photographic portraits. A few of the subjects add costuming: Moyer wears a blond wig, singer-guitarist Mary Timony sports a cat mask and Svenonius (whose current project is called Chain and the Gang) works a striped prison uniform. Most dubiously, Cornel West Theory vocalist Tim Hicks looks as if he decided to go trick-or-treating in a terrorist getup.

Other portraits have interactive twists, some more active than others. Bass’s flickering image is hidden within a silver box, viewable through a lens darkly. Artist Wilmer Wilson’s form is dissected into small close-ups that are loosely mounted on the wall and fluttered by a fan. Two pieces inspired by Conlon and his work use abstracted versions of his graffiti; the livelier one projects ever-changing images on a taped-off section of wall. A photo of electronic musician Yoko K. is accompanied by her music (via headphones) and flanked by touch-sensitive panels (although their sensitivity doesn’t yield a noticeable response).

These gimmicks may not be revealing, but they are entertaining. At a time when large photographic portraits are almost as common in Washington as frozen yogurt shops, any attempt to mess with the format is welcome.

‘Tribute 1’ at Irvine

Last year, a neighborhood task force dubbed 14th Street NW near Logan Circle the “D.C. Arts District.’’ But that name might not be enough to retain the strip’s art galleries. Irvine Contemporary recently announced it will leave its 14th and P space at the end of August, with a new home (as yet) undisclosed. The gallery is bidding farewell to its location with a two-part series of group shows, surveying art it has shown over the past decade.

“Tribute 1’’ features eight artists and one duo, whose work is stylistically diverse and yet shows well together. All of it is impeccably crafted, and most turns on juxtaposition, whether between old and new, soft and hard or natural and synthetic. If the selection doesn’t reflect any particular movement, it does have a cohesive aesthetic.

The paintings range from Edward del Rosario’s disturbing faux-naive adult-fairy-tale scenarios to Teo Gonzalez’s serene abstractions, which manage to combine the rigor of gridded minimalism with the looseness of color-field painting. The photographers include Phil Nesmith, who uses 19th-century techniques to make silhouetted images that contrast technology and nature; and Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, whose richly detailed widescreen photomontages depict pseudo-historical scenes from explorations of Earth and beyond.

Linking these works only by media misses other connections. Del Rosario’s paintings echo Marla Rutherford’s photographs, which depict women wearing vinyl fetish gear in such mundane settings as a breakfast nook. And Nesmith’s photo of a bird atop a pile of vacuum tubes relates to artist [dNASAb]’s hanging assemblages, which are made of broken and melted electro-junk but look a bit like dragonflies. Most of the art in “Tribute 1’’ is worth looking at twice, once for its own sake and once for the resonances with other pieces in the show.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.


through July 22 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-536-8994. www.honfleurgallery.com

Documents: Alternative Guide to D.C. Underground

through July 22 at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions, 2208 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE 202-365-8392. www.vividsolutionsdc.com

Tribute 1

through July 16 at Irvine Contemporary, 412 14th St. NW. 202-332-8767. www.irvinecontemporary.com.