Myths and respite at Amer­i­can Univer­sity

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY MARK JENK­INS

With their bold lines, busy com­po­si­tions and in­tense reds and blacks, Car­los Luna’s paint­ings look as though they should be spray­painted on a wall. Yet they also pack enough mythic con­tent to befit some sort of tem­ple. The Mi­amibased Cuban artist, whose “Green Ma­chine” is at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity Mu­seum, is both a mod­ernist and clas­si­cist, with twist s of cu­bism and un­der­ground­comics grotes­querie.

The mixed-me­dia draw­ing paint­ings were made on pa­per fin­ished with a wax-and-oil var­nish, to both pre­serve the im­age and give it a dra­matic sheen. Also in­cluded are ta­pes­tries and images on steel squares, em­bel­lished with pati­nas and alu­minum over­lays. The metal pieces iso­late folk­loric em­blems such as the horse and the rooster, which also fea­ture in Luna’s more com­plex pic­tures.

If these are ev­ery­day fea­tures of ru­ral life, the artist reaches into Greco-Ro­man fa­bles for fig­ures such as Perseus, hold­ing the freshly sev­ered head of a male Me­dusa. That vi­gnette is named “Mr. C.O. Jones,” a ti­tle that — like many of Luna’s — is in­cor­po­rated into the crowded de­sign.

Some pic­tures are so stuffed they over­flow, with com­ple­men­tary pat­terns splashed on the wall be­hind them. Yet the essence of Luna’s style is his X-ray vi­sion. His crea­tures are of­ten sil­hou­ettes that out­line bod­ily frame­works. The fig­ures pivot on vis­i­ble joints and cir­cu­lar forms, or re­veal stars burn­ing in­side. The show’s ti­tle refers to a for­est con­sid­ered sa­cred in Afro-Cuban lore, but Luna’s pri­mary land­scape is in­te­rior.

Elz­bi­eta Siko­rska, whose “Time Stands Still” is also at the mu­seum, takes an al­ter­na­tive path through the for­est. Her large-scale draw­ings de­pict wood­lands yet are as loose as they are de­tailed. Wings, schematic di­a­grams, and hu­man fig­ures and body parts all fig­ure in these pic­tures, but cen­tral is the way the Poland-bred Sil­ver Spring artist trans­forms ges­tures into roots, trunks and downed branches — and then back again.

While Siko­rska’s pal­ette is mostly win­try, “Na­ture, Cul­ture, Di­vine” shim­mers with gold and sil­ver, and oth­ers seethe with red. The vis­ceral “Fire” gives a sense of un­con­tain­able ac­tion, as though its crim­son strokes are about to en­gulf the blue-heavy “Steps” next to it. Yet many of the pic­tures have a con­tem­pla­tive mood. As the show’s ti­tle sug­gests, they of­fer quiet mo­ments amid the mael­strom of his­tory and mem­ory. Green Ma­chine: The Art of Car­los Luna and Time Stands Still: Elz­bi­eta Siko­rska On view through May 28 at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity Mu­seum at the Katzen Arts Cen­ter, 4400 Mas­sachusetts Ave. NW. 202885-1300. amer­i­can.edu/mu­seum.

NoMuNoMu

In 1972, Richard Nixon’s cam­paign pitched his re­elec­tion with the slo­gan “Now More Than Ever.” A lo­cal artists col­lec­tive, NoMuNoMu, has bor­rowed that motto for its show at Wash­ing­ton Project for the Arts. Nei­ther Nixon nor the cur­rent pres­i­dent is a mo­tif, but the work is strongly po­lit­i­cal.

Although much of it in­volves text, some­times the state­ment is made sim­ply with color. Ani Brad­berry’s “Pre­ven­tive Pa­trol” is two thin blue lines of neon, and Adri­enne Gaither’s “I Don’t See Color” is a hard-edge, color-block paint­ing in pink­ish and yel­low­ish shades of “white” skin tones. Aaron Maier uses black fab­ric to sim­u­late char­ring on an or­ange­painted stick, evok­ing fiery de­struc­tion from Aleppo to Bal­ti­more.

Among Justin Poppe’s man­gastyle il­lus­tra­tions on birch pan­els is one that de­picts drug abuse and po­lice vi­o­lence; he also con­trib­uted a vase of flow­ers with a pen­nant that reads “City of Flint Wa­ter Dept.” Gaither tore pages from books about op­pres­sion, such as “1984” and “The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Mal­colm X,” con­ceal­ing most of the con­tent be­hind pho­tos and bars of color. Joseph Orzal printed words on gran­ite to make the mes­sages look like wis­dom of the an­cients, but the texts in­clude ads for racially seg­re­gated hous­ing and a re­port on racist po­lice con­duct in Fer­gu­son, Mo.

Orzal’s stone tablets ex­em­plify the group’s “call to ac­tion” against “a delu­sional frame­work of a ‘great­ness’ that never was.”

NoMuNoMu Presents Now More

Than Ever On view through May 27 at Wash­ing­ton Project for the Arts, 2124 Eighth St. NW. 202-234-7103. wpadc.org.

James Huck­en­pahler

With so­ci­ety’s es­sen­tial struc­ture called into ques­tion by the car­nage of World War I, Dadaists be­gan cut­ting and past­ing at ran­dom. That project has been revived, 24/7, at 17 th and L streets NW, where James Huck­en­pahler’s “Desk­top” sum­mons, over­laps and dis­perses words and pic­tures across two video screens. It’s a “gen­er­a­tive” piece, which means it uses al­go­rithms to yield ev­er­chang­ing, never-re­peat­ing com­bi­na­tions.

The lo­cal artist calls the in­gre­di­ents of this col­lage “dig­i­tal ephe­mera.” The mix is heavy on text, mostly in English but with a fair amount of Ja­panese. Sin­gle words and com­mer­cial lo­gos and slo­gans abound, along with movie ti­tles. Jean-Luc Go­dard and D.C. punk bands seem to be fa­vorites, but so are the prod­ucts and slo­gans of Amer­i­can drug­stores.

The mix sug­gests lay­ered graf­fiti with­out Day-Glo hues. Per­haps in homage to those who first as­sem­bled news­pa­per cut­tings into art, Huck­en­pahler em­ploys muted col­ors and ragged forms. His video tech­nol­ogy sim­u­lates torn, smudged and weath­ered pa­per. Hem­phill Fine Arts, whose store­front space dis­plays the piece, sug­gests that “like the sub­con­scious, it re­veals it­self best” af­ter dark. But “Desk­top” ap­pears as much his­tor­i­cal as psy­cho­log­i­cal. Desk­top: James Huck­en­pahler On view through May 27 at Hem­phill at 1700 L St. NW. 202-234-5601. hemphillfin­earts.com.

Ephe­mera

Un­like “Desk­top’s” po­ten­tially eter­nal dig­i­tal files, the art in Tar­get Gallery’s “Ephe­mera” not only de­picts the fleet­ing, but in some cases is volatile it­self. The 22 artists use ma­te­ri­als such as rust, beeswax and shark egg sacs to rep­re­sent a pre­car­i­ous uni­verse, adding tra­di­tional con­serv­able ma­te­ri­als to the mix.

France’s Maxime Gi­rardin, the only in­ter­na­tional par­tic­i­pant, sub­tly su­per­im­poses the im­age of a tree on a sin­gle leaf in del­i­cate, an­tique-look­ing pho­tographs. Li­lach Schrag cun­ningly uses loop­ing video to de­pict the cre­ation — or is it de­struc­tion? — of her “Brown Golem,” a hu­manoid be­gat from the earth as in Jewish myth.

The show’s cen­ter­piece is Hanna Vo­gel’s hang­ing “Was Might Be,” a del­i­cate con­struc­tion of wire and pa­per pulp that re­sem­bles a large wasp’s nest. Nearby is Rae Broyles’s “Glacier I,” which lay­ers wax and cheese­cloth atop aquatic blue paint. Like so much of this work, these pieces evoke nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena that are both for­mi­da­ble and frag­ile. Ephe­mera On view through May 21 at Tar­get Gallery, 105 N. Union St., Alexan­dria. 703-746-4590. tor­ped­o­fac­tory.org /tar­get. style@wash­post.com

CAR­LOS LUNA/PRI­VATE COL­LEC­TION/KATZEN ARTS CEN­TER

Car­los Luna, “Mr. C.O. Jones” (2012), mixed me­dia on pa­per on wood, on view in “Green Ma­chine.”

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