Tehran doesn’t re­veal it­self read­ily

The Washington Post Sunday - - MOVIES - BY MARK JENK­INS

In a show ti­tled “Ur­ban Map­ping,” it’s in­evitable that some­one would in­voke the French idea of the flâneur, whose av­o­ca­tion is sim­ply to walk and ex­pe­ri­ence the city. But the cap­tioned Po­laroids in Arash Fayez’s “Ram­blings of a Fla­neur” don’t doc­u­ment Paris. They show Tehran, where pub­lic and pri­vate have a dif­fer­ent sig­nif­i­cance than in the West. That’s a per­plex­ity hardly ad­dressed in this group show at Hil­lyer Art Space.

Ira­nian di­rec­tors such as Ja­far Panahi set their films in pub­lic spa­ces be­cause they can’t rep­re­sent women’s do­mes­tic lives hon­estly; cen­sors won’t al­low the de­pic­tion of women as they live at home, free of chadors and such. “Ur­ban Map­ping” was cu­rated by an Ira­nian woman, pho­tog­ra­pher Go­har Dashti, yet it doesn’t men­tion this is­sue.

There are rel­a­tively few women or men in these photo and video works, which fa­vor wide an­gles and empty spa­ces. The most pop­u­lous im­ages are archival: Rana Javadi’s street shots of an­ti­shah pro­test­ers in 1978-1979.

Head­less bod­ies move in a swim­ming pool in Si­avash Naghsh­bandi’s video, seen from be­neath the wa­ter’s sur­face. Peo­ple lie on pave­ment in Raoof Dashti’s video, in which hu­mans are an ur­ban “cap­il­lary sys­tem.” An­other video is a self-por­trait of as­sim­i­la­tion: Fayez trims his beard to look more Amer­i­can, hav­ing ram­bled to San Fran­cisco.

Me­hdi Vosough­nia con­tem­plates near-empty lots and court­yards in one of Tehran’s old­est neigh­bor­hoods; Behnam Sadighi does some­thing sim­i­lar in a sub­ur­ban area. Mehran Mo­ha­jer looks at the city through a pin­hole cam­era whose long ex­po­sures oblit­er­ate hu­man pres­ence.

The only artist who con­sid­ers the pub­lic-pri­vate di­vide is Saba Al­izadeh, who pho­to­graphs fab­ric printed with pic­tures of peo­ple and draped over fur­ni­ture in front of an open win­dow. Inside and out­doors, in­di­vid­ual and so­ci­ety, the home and the world — all are tan­gi­ble in these canny works. They demon­strate that con­vey­ing Ira­nian ur­ban­ity re­quires a spe­cial art­ful­ness. You can’t get it just by walk­ing around. Ur­ban Map­ping: Pub­lic Space Through the Lens of Con­tem­po­rary Ira­nian Artists On view through Oct. 29 at Hil­lyer Art Space, 9 Hil­lyer Ct. 202-338-0325. hilly­er­artspace.org.

‘Nev­er­mind, Az­izam’

Nowruz, the Ira­nian new year’s cel­e­bra­tion, is in the spring, but one of its cus­toms is now swim­ming in the win­dow at Trans­former. That gold­fish, one of mil­lions bought an­nu­ally to sym­bol­ize life, is the most tra­di­tional thing about “Nev­er­mind, Az­izam,” a show by three Ira­nian Amer­i­can women.

Anahita Brad­berry con­trib­utes neon sculp­tures. The geometric ones are ab­strac­tions; an­other writes “az­izam” (Per­sian for “sweet­heart”) in light blue script. Alexan­dra De­lafkaran works in ce­ram­ics. Rather than make func­tional ob­jects, though, she crafts bul­bous shapes akin to root veg­eta­bles and hu­man or­gans. Also in­cluded are kalei­do­scopic col­lages by Sheida Soleimani, who frac­tures pic­tures of women in stan­dard Ira­nian garb.

That these works mostly re­flect the do­mes­tic realm is un­der­lined by De­lafkaran’s set of pil­lows, each im­printed with the shrug­ging word “nev­er­mind.” The pil­lows rep­re­sent the artists’ cross-cul­tural stance — one foot in a Tehran sit­ting room, and the other in an Amer­i­can art-school class­room. Nev­er­mind, Az­izam On view through Oct. 14 at Trans­former, 1404 P St. NW. 202-483-1102. trans­formerdc.org.

Mag­gie Michael

Ev­ery­thing goes into Mag­gie Michael’s eclec­tic ab­strac­tions, in­clud­ing ink, clay, char­coal, col­lage, river wa­ter and acrylic, spray and house paint — as well as lit­er­ary and art-his­tory ref­er­ences. Metal­lic rust makes an ap­pear­ance in “Cubes and Pyra­mids Share the Same Base,” the D.C. painter’s show at G Fine Art. But the strik­ing thing about Michael’s most re­cent works, from a series dubbed “Resid­ual,” is their spare­ness.

Although that’s not un­prece­dented, the artist is bet­ter known for bustling visual di­a­logues that fea­ture play­ful gam­bits such as dried paint nailed to the can­vas. This se­lec­tion in­cludes one ex­am­ple of that, as well as a few pic­tures whose ges­tures nearly fill the plane. Yet open­ness is more com­mon, even in one ver­ti­cal can­vas that in­cludes a plant form (un­usual for Michael) and poured red pat­terns that re­sem­ble a cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem.

Most airy are the two “Resid­u­als,” stained with rust and clay as well as pig­ment. Although the pic­tures are largely flat, their con­tours and tones in­voke ab­stract steel and iron sculp­ture. Rather than mash ac­tual pieces of metal into the mix, Michael sug­gests an­other art form al­to­gether just with glim­mers and residue. Mag­gie Michael: Cubes and Pyra­mids Share the Same Base On view through Oct. 14 at G Fine Art, 4718 14th St. NW. 202-462-1601. gfin­eartdc.com.

Jef­fer­son Place Gallery and Arkin, Bel­mar & Early

The Jef­fer­son Place Gallery is re­mem­bered mostly for its as­so­ci­a­tion with the Wash­ing­ton Color School. But many sorts of artists ex­hib­ited there dur­ing its 18-year run.

All of the venue’s six orig­i­na­tors were linked to Amer­i­can Univer­sity, so that in­sti­tu­tion’s mu­seum is the log­i­cal place for “Mak­ing a Scene,” a ret­ro­spec­tive of the gallery’s first six years.

The show fea­tures more than two dozen artists, 11 of them found­ing mem­bers of the gallery, which began as a co­op­er­a­tive 60 years ago.

There are soft ab­strac­tions by D.C. col­orists Tom Down­ing and Howard Mehring, and a pic­ture made by Gene Davis be­fore stripes be­came his field.

But among the other high­lights are dis­parate pieces such as Jack Tworkov’s char­coal draw­ing, Fred Ma­roon’s pho­tos of Euro­pean scenes and Claire Falken­stein’s chrysalis-like form in welded cop­per. The ar­ray evokes the era but doesn’t fa­vor a par­tic­u­lar mode.

(There’s more in­for­ma­tion at jef­fer­son­place­gallery.com, an in de­vel­op­ment web­site de­vised by the show’s cu­ra­tor, John An­der­son, with Day Eight, a lo­cal arts non­profit group.)

For an im­mer­sion in con­tem­po­rary D.C. art, “Twist Layer Pour” di­vides the mu­seum’s sec­ond floor among three min­i­mal­ist, site-spe­cific in­stal­la­tions.

Mary Early fills the tricky area with the curved wall with hun­dreds of iden­ti­cal seg­ments of yel­low wax, neatly ar­ranged on the floor or tied to­gether and sus­pended ver­ti­cally.

At the other end are Son­dra N. Arkin’s black-wire sculp­tures, some also dan­gling; their white back­drops cap­ture the com­plex shad­ows cast by the skele­tal forms.

Be­tween is Joan Bel­mar’s ex­plo­ration of cir­cu­lar forms, some of which wrap a rounded pil­lar.

The off-the-shelf in­gre­di­ents in­clude LEDs, sil­ver mir­ror film and clear plas­tic cups, but they com­bine into an in­ter­plan­e­tary en­vi­ron­ment. Mak­ing a Scene: Jef­fer­son Place Gallery and Twist Layer Pour: Son­dra N. Arkin, Joan Bel­mar, Mary Early On view through Oct. 22 at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity Mu­seum at the Katzen Arts Cen­ter, 4400 Mas­sachusetts Ave. NW. 202-8851300. amer­i­can.edu/mu­seum.

SABA AL­IZADEH/HIL­LYER ART SPACE

Saba Al­izadeh’s “Light and Soil.” The artist is the only one in the “Ur­ban Map­ping” show who con­sid­ers the pub­lic-pri­vate di­vide.

JOAN BEL­MAR/AMER­I­CAN UNIVER­SITY MU­SEUM, KATZEN ARTS CEN­TER

A de­tail from Joan Bel­mar’s “Time/Space.” The “Twist Layer Pour” show of­fers an im­mer­sion in con­tem­po­rary D.C. art.

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