Feats of clay at the Mex­i­can Cul­tural In­sti­tute

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY MARK JENK­INS

Sim­ple ce­ram­ics made of red clay — un­dec­o­rated and roughly formed — look as though they may have been pulled from a primeval tomb or kitchen mid­den. Un­less, that is, they take the shapes of Bar­bie-like dolls, as in Maria Jose Lavin’s “Venus Anorex­ica.” This set of 27 partly dis­mem­bered and thor­oughly de­con­tex­tu­al­ized toys is one of sev­eral pieces in the Mex­i­can Cul­tural In­sti­tute’s “Clay in Tran­sit” that of­fer an ironic con­trast to to­day’s ex­trud­ed­plas­tic, shrink-wrapped world.

Ana Gomez is up to some­thing sim­i­lar, al­though of the seven artists’ works, hers have the most re­fined sur­faces. Her din­ner plates would fit in any up­scale home, ex­cept that they’re adorned with col­laged pop-art im­agery. Seem­ingly more el­e­gant is a se­ries of porce­lain con­tain­ers, which on closer in­spec­tion turn out to be repli­cas of sty­ro­foam in­stant-ra­men cups.

Maria Jose de la Ma­corra also makes the ephemeral solid and en­dur­ing, al­though her sub­ject is na­ture. An ar­ray of shapes, all white and wall-mounted, is ti­tled “Clouds.” Nearby, five long strands of ce­ramic pearls are sus­pended from the ceil­ing and pooled on the floor. This is “Rain,” fluid yet harder-edged than hail.

Other con­trib­u­tors look more to the past, or a mythic con­cep­tion of it. Saul Kaminer’s 3-D ab­strac­tions hint at preColumbian mo­tifs, while Gus­tavo Perez’s elab­o­rately pat­terned ves­sels, in­cised with par­tial cuts, sug­gest rit­ual ob­jects. Perla Krauze’s three in­stal­la­tions range from the sim­ple — a low wall of black bricks — to a baroque ar­ray of sim­u­lated cu­riosi­ties in black, ivory and gold.

Paloma Tor­res, who cu­rated the show, made a se­ries of stand­ing col­umns that ap­pear del­i­cate de­spite their im­pos­ing size. They’re com­posed of seg­ments that al­lude to the bi­o­log­i­cal, whether hu­man or in­sect. But the in­di­vid­ual clay por­tions also look a bit like fab­ric that’s been wrapped, leav­ing a loose end that ap­pears to be flap­ping, al­though it’s fixed in place. By pre­serv­ing a sense of the clay’s orig­i­nal flex­i­bil­ity, Tor­res’ pil­lars prompt dou­ble takes as surely as do clay Bar­bies or porce­lain ra­men cups. Clay in Tran­sit On view through Aug. 18 at the Mex­i­can Cul­tural In­sti­tute, 2829 16th St. NW. 202-7281628.

Evan Reed and Lori Ann Boocks

Wood­worker Evan Reed re­spects his ma­te­rial’s orig­i­nal form, even when that form isn’t nat­u­ral. Some of the work in “New and Re­cent Sculp­tures,” at Black Rock Cen­ter for the Arts, evokes trees and branches. But the artist, who teaches at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity, also in­cor­po­rates found ob­jects. Sev­eral of the show’s pieces perch on ta­bles; one in­cludes wooden crutches, re­pur­posed from hu­man to sculp­tural sup­port.

An able car­pen­ter, Reed con­structs de­tailed scaf­fold­ing for large model houses. The ta­ble-mounted “Break­ing Camp,” is straight­for­ward — ex­cept for a gap at the cen­ter where the ta­ble is miss­ing a leaf. “Plan and Frame,” erected atop five draft­ing ta­bles, is more sur­real: Skele­tons of houses flow into each other as though they’re con­joined quin­tu­plets. As in much of Reed’s work, the re­sult is clean, pre­cise and a bit eerie.

Hazy as though seen through mist, Lori Ann Boocks’s paint­ings re­sem­ble im­pres­sion­is­tic land­scapes. But her pic­tures in “The Shapes of Mem­o­ries,” up­stairs from Reed’s show, ac­tu­ally mean to por­tray the for­got­ten and the mis­re­mem­bered.

The Ger­man­town artist’s pic­tures be­gin with char­coal scrawls of text, over­lap­ping and mostly in­de­ci­pher­able. Paint, usu­ally earth-toned, washes over the words, so that from a dis­tance, the char­coal ges­tures re­sem­ble stone seams or streaks of gray clouds. In­spired, in part, by rel­a­tives who have suf­fered mem­ory loss, Boocks’s art­works ap­pear both airy and solid. Some­thing of sub­stance is there, even if it can’t be grasped. Evan Reed: New and Re­cent Sculp­tures. Lori Ann Boocks: The Shapes of Mem­o­ries On view through Aug. 26 at Black Rock Cen­ter for the Arts, 12901 Town Com­mons Dr., Ger­man­town. 301-528-2260. black­rock­cen­ter.org /gallery.

The Art of En­gage­ment

As the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion loomed a year ago, Touch­stone Gallery pre­sented “Art as Pol­i­tics.” Now, the venue’s “The Art of En­gage­ment” re­turns to many themes of that ex­hi­bi­tion, but in a some­what grim­mer mood. Bob Allen’s paint­ing of a pipe bomb, a wink at Sur­re­al­ist Rene Magritte’s 1929 paint­ing of a pipe, is one of very few smilein­duc­ing en­tries.

The art­works were se­lected from a na­tional call, pared from 750 to about 70 by Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity Mu­seum Di­rec­tor Jack Ras­mussen. Many pieces re­fer, di­rectly or oth­er­wise, to the post-elec­tion Women’s March. Su­san Haz­ard’s “Strug­gle,” for ex­am­ple, is an all-white mixed­me­dia as­sem­blage with a vulva at its cen­ter.

Among the other sub­jects are po­lice shoot­ings of African Amer­i­can youths and the par­tial ban on ar­rivals from seven ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim na­tions. Wil­lette Bat­tle’s “Safe Trayvon” at­tempts to pro­tect the young man with a set of blond pig­tails, while Vidya Vi­jayasekha­ran’s “Then There Were Seven” stacks atop sand seven boxes, em­bel­lished with the Ara­bic words for such ideals as “wis­dom,” “free­dom” and “peace.” Th­ese might seem to be uni­ver­sal, but con­cepts that pre­vail in an art gallery don’t al­ways tri­umph in the vot­ing booth. The Art of En­gage­ment On view through Aug. 24 at Touch­stone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW. 202347-2787. touch­stone­gallery.com.

Mary Edna Fraser

Batik, an an­cient fab­ric-dy­ing tech­nique as­so­ci­ated es­pe­cially with In­done­sia, is tra­di­tion­ally used to pro­duce dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns. But Mary Edna Fraser, whose work is now at Joan Hisaoka Heal­ing Arts Gallery, employs the process to make vividly hued land­scapes on fab­ric, with two con­tem­po­rary twists. “Ris­ing Tides” de­picts bays, rivers and deltas from the sort of air­borne van­tage points unavail­able be­fore the in­ven­tion of air­craft and satel­lites. (The South Carolina artist is a pi­lot.) Also, the show fo­cuses mostly on marshy ter­rain that’s likely to be in­un­dated as the planet warms and the oceans swell.

From the sky, Fraser de­tails low­ly­ing sites in Alaska, Bangladesh and else­where. One atyp­i­cal paint­ing, ren­dered on lace that per­fo­rates the im­age, is a less spe­cific view of a me­an­der­ing wa­ter­way. Also un­char­ac­ter­is­tic is “Gulf Oil Spill,” whose swirling pur­ple sheen rep­re­sents an­other sort of en­vi­ron­men­tal threat. Most of­ten, though, Fraser’s viewpoint is de­tached and serene. From high above the sur­face, peo­ple are in­vis­i­ble, and their ef­fects seem­ingly in­signif­i­cant. The only hu­man at­tributes that mat­ter are Fraser’s eye and hand. Ris­ing Tides: Mary Edna Fraser On view through Aug. 26 at Joan Hisaoka Heal­ing Arts Gallery, 1632 U St. NW. 202-483-8600.

MARIA JOSE LAVIN/MEX­I­CAN CUL­TURAL IN­STI­TUTE

Maria Jose Lavin, “Venus Anorex­ica” (de­tail), 2012. On view through Aug. 18 in “Clay in Tran­sit” at the Mex­i­can Cul­tural In­sti­tute.

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