A contemporary art exhibition titled “Light & Movement” could require as many electrical outlets as it has pieces. But just a few of the 44 contributors to this show at the Watergate Gallery offer art that must be plugged in. Most conjure the show’s themes with techniques that considerably predate Thomas Edison.
Craig Kraft’s wall sculpture consists of three slashes of blue neon and two complementary aluminum strands. A motor causes the thin, upright metal rods of Mike Shaffer’s “Ocean Motion” to jiggle and sway. The symmetry of Doug Dupin’s assemblage of found objects, mostly wood, includes twin headlights. Sam Noto combines his trademark curled steel rods with curving cables that end in small lamps; the sculpture also is a fixture to illuminate other sculptures.
Other contributors evoke the motifs less directly. Lauri Menditto, working as usual with shards of license plates, collages triangles of pure color into something like a stained-glass window. Nancy Frankel’s relief sculpture is a layered series of wooden waves, painted various shades of blue. Charlotte Lallement-Klaus’s vivid painting disassembles a star into pieces that aren’t especially stellar but glow with smeary metallic pigments.
Among the standouts is a Susan Goldman monotype in which a flowerlike circular form is overlaid with nine squares of bright hues. It contrasts line and color, as well as organic and geometric. Or, if you prefer, light and movement.
Light & Movement On view through Jan. 28 at Watergate Gallery, 2552 Virginia Ave. NW. 202-338-4488. watergategalleryframedesign.com.
Tracy Featherstone & Milana Braslavsky
Foliage plays very different roles in the work of Tracy Featherstone and Milana Braslavsky, exhibiting separately at VisArts at Rockville. Featherstone’s installation in the Gibbs Street Gallery includes live plants to suggest the Asian countries she visited recently. In Braslavsky’s starker show in the Common Ground Gallery, the vegetation is all on paper.
Featherstone’s “Fantastical Landscape” is a symbolic reconstruction of places like India and Nepal, where religious art is public, communal and ubiquitous. Amid the greenery, the Ohio artist has arrayed banners, sculptures and mudlike mounds, made of everyday stuff. There also are small abstract paintings — and lots of gold leaf, symbolic of divinity in many cultures. If too tidy to simulate the sensory overload of a real passage to India, the installation succeeds as a celebration of cultures that don’t segregate art, life and worship.
Green is the only sign of life in Braslavsky’s austere, large-format photographs. Vases as well as backdrops are white in “The Uninvited,” whose setting could be an art gallery or a morgue. The reality is closer to the latter: The Baltimore artist depicts discarded plants, left to wither. The forsaken flora are a ready-made metaphor for the Moldova-born photographer’s own uprooted life. But it also can be seen as an expression of unruly vitality, defiantly growing in a desiccated habitat.
Tracy Featherstone: Fantastical Landscape and Milana Braslavsky: The Uninvited On view through Jan. 8 at VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.
Katie Baines & Amy Chan
Neither Katie Baines nor Amy Chan deals solely in tidy geometric forms, but titling their exhibition “Color Disorder” overstates the chaos. There’s a logic to the Virginia painters’ show at the Athenaeum, even if their methods allow wild juxtapositions and improvisational gestures.
Both draw on organic forms, although that’s more apparent in Baines’s pictures, which are larger and busier. The artist contrasts styles and patterns, suggesting graffiti and anatomy textbooks simultaneously. Pictorial elements may be soft or hard, recurring or singular, outlined or not. Fused into abstractions, the disparate pieces yield paintings that are as eventful as epic Renaissance canvasses.
The selection contains more of Chan’s paintings, which tend to be small; some hang over Baines pieces to spark visual chatter. Chan’s pictures can be as simple as “Split,” in which the divide is between fields of crimson (punctuated by a ghostly grid) and lime. But the artist complicates things with panels in a range of shapes, often with jagged edges. “Split” is a horizontal diamond, while “Monolith Dot” has a rounded notch on one side. Chan’s work has a pop immediacy but enough facets to reward closer looks.
Color Disorder: Katie Baines and Amy Chan On view through Jan. 8 at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., Alexandria. 703-548-0035. nvfaa.org.
You may imagine you already know the “Thinkers and Dreamers” of Maud Taber-Thomas’s show at Susan Calloway Fine Arts. Many are characters from 19th-century novels or plays, although figures from Shakespeare and Greek myth also seem to have sat for the Silver Spring artist’s neo-neoclassical portraits. These fictional folks are rendered with near-documentary realism and just a hint of impressionist license.
Taber-Thomas does take some liberties with her mostly female subjects, but these are conceptual, not stylistic. Jane Austen might not recognize her Elizabeth Bennet, here cast as a woman of African descent. “The Tempest’s” Miranda is in modern dress, at a chess board, in both an oil painting and a charcoal drawing.
Light and shadow are deftly conveyed, as are the folds of voluminous costumes. (There are no yoga pants in Taber-Thomas’s universe.) A huge, swooping hat dominates a picture of Milly, from Henry James’s “The Wings of the Dove.” Perhaps the topper is meant to resemble a wing, but there’s no sense that the woman is about fly away. The artist prefers to ponder her subjects as they contemplate.
Maud Taber-Thomas: Thinkers and Dreamers On view through Jan. 7 at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-965-4601. callowayart.com.
The Arbor Series
The solidity of trees and the delicacy of their blooms provide the graphic tension in John H. Brown Jr.’s photographs. His “Arbor Series,” at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, includes views of silhouetted pines, their branches and needles often divided among multiple frames. To this strategy, familiar from previous shows, the local artist has added both subtle color and new depths.
Brown’s photos are mostly high-contrast, but the stark black outlines are sometimes softened by the pink, yellow or purple of cherry, dogwood or wisteria. Other pictures have been printed on translucent vellum and layered so that hazy shapes are visible behind the primary image. The effect is subtle and simple, yet evocative of greater things. The shadowy forms imply the rest of the forest, as well as what’s beyond.
The Arbor Series: John H. Brown Jr. On view through Jan. 11 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.