In the galleries: How artists’ works leave a carbon footprint

The eight contributors to “Gestures of Disappearance” want to hold people responsible for the environmental consequences of their actions, and they are starting with the ones closest to home: themselves. Next to each artwork in the VisArts show is an accounting of the CO2-equivalent output required to manufacture it.

The art is modest in scale and mostly made of commonplace materials, sometimes found or recycled, so the ecological costs are not high; in many cases, the most carbon-intensive item on the budget is driving to acquire supplies or to visit a particular site. But the accountings make their point: Producing works of imagination has real-world consequences, just like producing anything else.

End of carousel

The show was organized by one of its participants, Murat Cem Mengüç, while in residence at VisArts. The Turkish American Marylander, a former academic, offers a landscape painting executed on a delivery bag from a major online retailer, as well as a fast-motion video of “drawings” rendered with sticks on a grassy rectangle of a backyard.

None of these mostly local artists engage in particularly carbon-intensive undertakings. Ceramic sculptor Louisa Neill offers a pile of clay next to sequential photographs of digging a hole. Susan Main (VisArts’s former gallery director) mounts a variety of grasses so they emerge horizontally from a wall, and exhibits a video — echoing Mengüç’s — of many activities within a square yard of a suburban lawn.

The more traditional works all have ecological themes. Kevin C. Pyle hints at the ecological price of war with drawings of abandoned military facilities. Maggie Gourlay’s screen print of profuse weeds is made with plant-derived pigments. Gabriel Soto addresses animal agriculture with a painting of a cow whose udders leak an endless stream of milk. This ironic depiction of infinite bounty embodies one moral of “Gestures of Disappearance”: Nothing is forever.

Gestures of Disappearance Through March 17 at Kaplan Gallery, VisArts, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200.

When artworks emphasize hard-edge blocks of bold color, the eye searches for any deviation, however small. Such visual ambiguities occur in Pazo Fine Art’s “Geometrix: Encoded Abstraction” but are provided by only some of the nine artists. Sculptor Jean Jinho Kim (the only local in the lineup) and painter Don Voisine offer pieces that are tooled with machine-like precision. Indeed, Kim’s towering upright columns, bent jaggedly at the top like stylized lightning bolts, are aluminum pipes that were powder-coated at an industrial shop.

Sometimes both the shapes and the hues are precise, yet some of the colors shimmer, as in the vertical bands airbrushed by Don Dudley and the vertical ones painted by Norman Zammitt (1931-2007). Andrew Masullo arrays crisp blocks of color but allows the pigment to form small mounds that are visible upon close inspection. The forms in Neil Williams’s drawings on graph paper are geometric but filled in with colored pencil that yields heathered rather than saturated hues.

Three paintings by Harvey Quaytman (1937-2002) demonstrate the widest variations in techniques. One picture defines fields of white with borders of black and brown; the latter color is not paint but rust, and thus variable in tone and texture. Another of his pieces centers on a near-white near-rectangle that’s stained with hints of pink and blue. Unlike Quaytman’s paintings, Voisine’s never go soft, but their dominant black forms are sometimes set off by brightly hued bands. The narrow yellow stripes in “Up Lift” are indiscernible from a distance, but once seen can’t be ignored. They’re glimmers of delicacy in an otherwise burly composition.

Geometrix: Encoded Abstraction Through March 16 at Pazo Fine Art, 1932 Ninth St. NW (entrance at 1917 9½ St. NW). 571-315-5279.

Soomin Ham

It’s not hard to remember numerous recent gallery shows about memory, an increasingly common theme of local artists. But few of them conjured visions of the bygone more inventively than D.C. photographer Soomin Ham, who mixes techniques for both visual and conceptual effect. Ham’s Multiple Exposures Gallery show, “Recollections,” ranges widely in style yet is cohesive emotionally.

Ham, originally from Seoul, sometimes rephotographs existing pictures, or layers soft-focus images through superimposition or by covering them with additional material. One set of three photographs commemorates the loss of her mother, a motif in Ham’s work, by picturing such things as the fabric wrapped about the woman’s ashes and a highway sign for a South Korean cemetery. The photos are in color, which is relatively rare in Ham’s work, but coated with whitish wax to suggest remembrances both psychically and literally out of reach.

Ham often assembles images in doubles or triples. A diptych, “Light for the Fallen,” is split between a black field punctuated by white specks and rows of gravestones rendered in grays so light that they almost vanish into the white background. A single picture fuses three levels: A woman holds a leaf over her face in a rectangular photo that overlaps a horizontal picture of a forest of bare-branched trees. Human and nature almost merge, and yet keep their distance, much like the reveries Ham deftly evokes.

Soomin Ham: Recollections Through March 10 at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. 703-683-2205.

Gardens do not signify innocence or enchantment in MK Bailey’s show of new paintings, “Bucolia.” The three large pictures of single figures in dark sylvan settings — one on each wall at Transformer’s tiny gallery space — are shadowy and partly illuminated by strange bluish light. The vibe seems misty and wistful, although a gallery note characterizes it as tragic.

The show is the result of Bailey’s six-week residency at a place quite unlike Transformer, the opulent and expansive Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens. The D.C. artist elicits the experience of being at Hillwood by painting silhouetted plants and trees directly on Transformer’s walls, so they appear to grow behind the three canvases.

The silhouetted forms echo the style of Bailey’s earlier pictures, which featured brighter colors and simpler, outlined forms. The classical poses and settings always evident in the artist’s work are now supported by more complex painting that simulates volume, roundness and depth. Bailey’s paintings may be all about mood, but they benefit from having become more corporeal.

MK Bailey: Bucolia Through March 16 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102.


Leave a Comment