The member-run Touchstone Gallery primarily serves local artists, but as one of the few remaining commercial art spaces within a short walk of the White House, the venue sometimes assumes a national role. Before the 2016 election, its “Art As Politics” looked mostly askance at the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency. Its current “America Is . . .” takes a broader view, but there are more than a few echoes of that previous show.
Connor Czora offers ceramic “Make America Great Again” caps, one of them shattered, with a video that reveals how and where the broken hat was smashed. In Jenny Wu’s video montage, Trump says just one word, over and over. Jorg Dubin’s loosely realist painting depicts a pistol-packing, pink-hatted nude woman who refuses to be groped.
The show’s four curators, all from outside the Washington area, selected many works whose political commentary is timely but indirect. For example, Lauren Gohara makes a color-field painting out of three bar graphs that visualize the division of wealth in the United States. The one with the most equitable spread of hues may be the most attractive, but it’s the least accurate.
Several pieces are memorials of a sort. Christine Atkinson compacted debris from Los Angeles County wildfires into a rough-topped near-cube. Alx Orphant’s “Wounded Holler,” a grove of upright glass syringes, is a monument in microcosm to opioid victims. On a larger scale is Robert Arbogast’s take on Confederate war statues, whose plinth identifies it as a likeness of Robert E. Lee. Perhaps it is, but the figure is cloaked in what the artist identifies as a “surrender flag.”
Diverse but uniformly well-crafted, the works in “America Is . . . ” are remarks in a dozen or more continuing conversations. Indeed, Ann Stoddard’s baby blankets imprinted with the shapes of military-style rifles could be part of another topical show, “Peril,” 10 blocks to the north.
America Is . . . Through August 27 at Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave. NW.
Play Protection Peril
At the center of the concluding installment of “Play Protection Peril” is a piece that requires updates with sickening regularity. Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s “Alienable Right to Life” is a U.S. flag inscribed with the names of all the mass-shooting victims in the United States since the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. By the first day of the show at H-Space, three more names had been appended to the bottom. At the Aug. 3 opening, visitors discussed preliminary reports of carnage in El Paso; news of the Dayton killings arrived the next day. In total, 31 more names to be added.
Sponsored by the Zenith Community Arts Foundation, “Peril” responds in part to local gun violence. Nancy Nesvet’s “Fear and Loathing in D.C.” suspends a plastic gun before a dark painting of a woman’s face, while John Mein’s flower-carrying metal figures are fabricated from decommissioned guns welded together. (The sculptures were made with help from participants in the D.C. police department’s Youth Creating Change program.) Stephanie Mercedes dangles 33 chimes made from bullet shells, one for each of the D.C. homicides since the first part of the show opened in June.
Other contributions are less geographically specific, if no less chilling. David Mordini places a cast-aluminum head behind a black veil studded with 3-D-printed guns. Liz Lescault serves on a platter a putrid meal of a gun, bullet shells and clay worms. Lea Craigie-Marshall stages a vignette that features a gore-spattered baby doll, a pool of simulated blood on the floor and a shopping cart full of “MAGA”-branded products.
Peril Through Aug. 25 at H-Space, 1932 Ninth St. NW (entrance at 1917 9½ St. NW).
Some of the paintings in Lukman Ahmad’s “Icons of War” are painted on large sheets of paper whose ends were cut without benefit of a straight edge. The ragged edges indicate that the artist, a Syrian Kurd who lives in the Washington area, has no time for niceties. His show at Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al Quds conveys the ferocity of a battle zone.
Ahmad calls the figures in his expressionist laments “icons” because he avoids specific political details and borrows symbols from European masterpieces. The pictures are painted mostly in smeary red and black, framed by large open areas of white canvas or paper. But they include touches in gold, notably the halos surrounding the heads of victim and aggressor alike. While employing such Kurdish cultural motifs as doves, horses and sunflowers, Ahmad incorporates Christian iconography to stress the universality of his subject.
The artist often splits compositions into two panels, sometimes linked by the figure of a child at or near the center. “Journey of Death,” with a boy on a bicycle on one side and a tank on the other, distills the assault on innocence into a potent tableaux. Even when he imagines a war-free Syria, as in “Melody of Hope,” Ahmad paints with raw immediacy.
Lukman Ahmad: Icons of War Through Aug. 23 at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al Quds, 2425 Virginia Ave. NW.
The pictures in Scott Ivey’s show at Artist’s Proof are hung a bit lower than is usual for the gallery, notes proprietor Peggy Sparks. That’s one reason the D.C. landscapes in the local artist’s “Bridges and Alleys” seem so approachable. They take a street- or window-level view of everyday scenes, with only the occasional glimpse of the city’s monumental precincts. When a dome punctuates the open skies, it’s seen in the distance, through haze that appears welcoming rather than ominous. Whether working in oil or ink-washed charcoal, Ivey is a master of congenial fog and drizzle.
Ivey lists Edward Hopper, James McNeil Whistler and J.M.W. Turner as his principal inspirations for these pictures, made between 1988 and this year. The artist’s interest in the first of those is evident in his focus on ordinary places, although none of these scenes are inhabited by Hopper-like nighthawks. From the other two precursors, Ivey learned about light and depth, all suggested with loose yet precise gestures. But the subjects of Ivey’s nocturnes — unlike the ones now on display in the Freer Gallery’s “Whistler in Watercolor” — don’t seem remote. They’re misty yet neighborly.
Scott Ivey: Bridges and Alleys Through Aug. 24 at Artist’s Proof, 1533 Wisconsin Ave. NW.