Volkova's photography of plain drywall can leave viewers drawing a blank

By Blake Gopnik

Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, November 12, 2010

The last in a series of daily reviews looking at images from FotoWeek DCWashington's third annual celebration of photography.

The standard assumption, when we look at photographs, is that they're fine stand-ins for some corner of the world. In a show tellingly called "Proofs," local artist Elena Volkova tests that assumption.

A little while back, Volkova photographed nondescript corners of the Hamiltonian Gallery on U Street NW. Now, for FotoWeek, she's installed those photos in the places they were taken, at the same scale as the architecture they show.

Just to the left as you walk in, a photograph shows the course of brick that runs above the gallery's floor as well as an angle in the drywall that sits above it. It's propped on the floor so that it hides precisely the bricks and walls depicted in it.

Other photos are of a plain blank wall, showing the faintest hints of drips and paint-roller texture. They're hung over white wall that, we imagine, features those same drips and texture -- though we can't tell, because that very wall is hidden by the photos sitting on it.

Still other photographs hang on the wall but show details of the gallery's white-on-white track lighting or of architectural detailing that's nowhere near where they hang.

Volkova's photos get us constantly checking our beliefs about what photographs show. No matter how hard she tried to match photo and scene, there are always gaps that prevent a perfect match. In that front-corner shot, there's no angle you can get to that makes the photograph and drywall line up perfectly. Volkova's wall shots presumably conceal the very surfaces they depict, so we can never affirm their truth -- or their lies. When we look up from Volkova's ceiling shots, we're surprised to find a somewhat different configuration of track lights -- but we don't know if the ceiling once looked as it does in the photos.

Volkova's photos come close to the traditional, superficial trickery of old master trompe l'oeil, where paint was made to be mistaken for reality. What's surprising is that, despite her use of a medium that ought to make truth easier to tell, she puts so much in doubt.


through Dec. 4 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW. Call 202-332-1116 or visithttp://www.hamiltoniangallery.com.

Blake Gopnik on Elena Volkova


James Rieck and Jonathan Monaghan at Hamiltonian Gallery


By Jessica Dawson

Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, October 22, 2010

Galleries readers may remember the love letter I penned to James Rieck back in August, when I saw his wry paintings done in monochromatic grisaille, including one rather sexy portrait of a Weber grill, in a Gallery Four group exhibition in Baltimore. Some of you even trekked to see it.

Now the carless and the lazy need not sweat to see Rieck, 45, who shows five paintings through the end of this month at Hamiltonian Gallery on U Street. But his recent efforts -- less consumer critique, more mica -- have complicated our relationship.

It's hard to love his new strategy of adding bits of shiny mica to his canvases. His surfaces glitter distractingly, like iridescent eye shadow at a lunch meeting -- not horrible, just out of place. I'm not sure what the shimmer adds to his grandly scaled painting of a wolf skin rug; it's a Brothers Grimm kind of image, made hallucinogenic with vertiginous perspective.

The shiny flecks distract from a twisted little canvas called "Judith," which is a tightly cropped homage to Artemisia Gentileschi's signature canvas, "Judith Slaying Holofernes." Rieck zoomed in on Judith's hand grasping the knife hilt and came up with a picture that evokes a phallus or pudenda almost at the same time. I love the bizarreness of this painting, but mica isn't adding to its success.

Of Rieck's three other canvases, two look like the vampy legs of Vargas girls dressed up in Barbarella and Brunhilde getups, and the third is a nipplish rendition of a shield -- very medieval cheesecake, and not in a good way.

On view alongside Rieck's works are those of University of Maryland student Jonathan Monaghan, 24, an able manipulator of 3D Studio Max, the video-making tool used for car and Coke commercials. That Monaghan's efforts here engage the same strategies as those used to create Coke's animated polar bears only enhances the wryness of his riff.

In Monaghan's HD video "Life Tastes Good" (yes, that's a Coke ad slogan), a massive white bear walks up, lies down and dies a Shakespearean death over three long minutes. He's an imposing figure (5 feet tall when on all fours) with a creepy red eye that's half Pepsi roundel and half Coke emblem. A red Coke ribbon rings his waist. His ghostly white form emerges against a black background as if he's in the gallery with us. His final minutes are a riveting evocation of global warming, capitalist suffocation and grief over a furry creature's agony.

A pigment print depicting an imagined shrine for the white beast accompanies the video. (Monaghan also presents another video-image pair starring a black eagle.) The white-on-white world of the print, called "Open Happiness" (yep, another Coke tagline), could pass for a still from a Matthew Barney film. Here, the bottom half of a bear jaw emerges from the center of a sanctuary like the massive stone at Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock. One part Pantheon and another part Gothic cathedral, it's possibly too easy of a mash-up. But it remains a striking curiosity.

read article here


Opposites Attract

It seems that rather like the Little Black Dress, some themes in art fail to go out of fashion. No matter what decade we’re in, the same subjects crop up, re-thought, re-presented and in some cases literally given a new lick of paint. I’m here at the Hamiltonian Gallery this evening for the opening of their new exhibition, featuring three of their fellows. Let’s see what’s up for discussion inside.

Check out this week’s video blog. And special thanks to the artists and Hamiltonian Gallery.

Opposites Attract


At the Hamiltonian: 3 Artists, 3 Mediums, 1 Synergy









Click to view the slide show of highlighting the works of the three artists in the current exhibit at the Hamiltonian Artists Gallery, 1353 U Street NW. (Luis Gomez Photos)


From Cecile Oreste

View Luis Gomez’s slide show of the three artist’s works on flickr; shots are captioned.

The Hamiltonian Artists Gallery promotes new emerging artists through its So Hamiltonian Fellows Program—a two-year fellowship awarded through an annual competition. Currently, you can view the work of three of their fellows Leah Frankel, Magnolia Laurie and Lina Vargas de la Hoz at the gallery located on the north side of U Street just east of 14th.The gallery hosted an opening reception last Saturday for the exhibition of paintings and installations, which runs until June 9.

Although each artist uses a unique medium, the three works collectively present physically binary relationships and investigate an exchange of energies. “It was an intuitive feeling to group these women,” said Hamiltonian Artists Gallery Director Jacqueline Ionita when asked about the decision to exhibit the three fellows together. “There is something poetic about their work and I hope people will realize the common theme.”

The first exhibit you experience as you enter the gallery includes paintings and installations by Magnolia Laurie. Her work explores the idea of construction/deconstruction through environments created upon masses of broken lines. According to Laurie, she plays off the idea of architecture, building and the cyclical nature of destruction, as well as nest like accumulations like those of birds.


Laurie’s work has been inspired by a variety of influences including ruins left behind in countries such as Turkey and the residue left behind by floods. Laurie hopes viewers will come away from her exhibit “curious about physical engagement, intrigued about the subject matter and engaged in conversation.”

As you walk further into the gallery, you experience an installation created by Lina Vargas de la Hoz. “Pull Over 2” is composed of knit sweaters, which she previously used for her thesis project. The installation explores the idea of having spaces that are connected, with each knit sweater symbolizing personal space.

In addition to thinking of objects as spaces, Vargas de la Hoz expects people to play and interact with the piece itself. “The viewer is a very important part of this piece,” said Vargas de la Hoz. “It’s about collaboration. It’s about the viewers, their interaction with the piece and the actions between the other viewers.”

The final installation, from Leah Frankel, investigates the exchange of energies through mounds of salt and blocks of ice. It is an interactive piece in which viewers will not only walk around the mounds of salt, but will also experience the voids the ice has left behind. Viewers will see different stages of the ice melting, which relates to the idea of construction/deconstruction also explored by Laurie.

“Leah is a sculptural scientist, according to Ionita. “Her work tends to speak to broader world issues that can be attributed to macro scale concepts or personal relationships.”

Ionita hopes the gallery will continue to be an incubator for new and emerging artists through the So Hamiltonian Fellows Program. In addition, she hopes artists recognize Hamiltonian Artists as “a safe house for experimentation that retains a high level of quality” and is “relevant to today’s art world.”

Article on Borderstan.com


"New Work" at Hamiltonian Gallery

Through March 20

By Maura Judkis on March 12, 2010


Part Snow White, part science fair project, Linda Hesh’s “In the Garden” takes a wry look at the original sin. One of four artists featued in Hamiltonian Gallery’s “New Work” exhibition, Hesh has laser-etched the word “Evil” into a bushel of apples, which are preserved in a myriad of ways—freeze-dried, pickled, mummified, and pulverized into applesauce. Her photographs explore how one bite of an apple has affected the condition of women throughout all time, but particularly in pop culture, where she pits Disney princesses against dominatrixes, linked by apples, evil, and Eve. The power of language in art unites three of the artists in the show, with each pondering the human condition and societal ills. Alex Kondner’s sand on canvas repetitively urges us to “Evacuate,” and Bryan Rojsuotikul’s self-referential paintings declare that “Art is Cancer” and ask “Whatis This? Some Kinda Avant-Garde Shit?” The answer, Rojsuotikul surely knows, is no.


"New Work" at Hamiltonian Gallery


Art in Unexpected Places

Local Galleries Highlight The Creativity of New Artists

  • By Jeremy B. White
  • Roll Call Staff
  • March 1, 2010, Midnight

Washington has no shortage of art. The august institutions of the Smithsonian offer visitors the chance to view both priceless classical paintings and innovative modern work, while private museums, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection, offer equally impressive repositories of stunning creativity.

"New Work" at Hamiltonian Gallery



Starting today, we will feature one Activation 2719 artist a day. The opening reception for Activation 2719, a pop-up gallery in Columbia Heights, is this Saturday the 20th. It is being presented by No Kings Collective, and it will be hosted by them as well as us here at ReadysetDCIf you plan to attend, RSVP here.

DC has a lot of promise and potential and is moving in the right direction. This close knit community makes the DC art scene eccentric while offering art and artists that can be exhibited in any city.

All original photos by Allicia. Additional photos provided by the artist.

Following the “Call + Response” exhibition at Hamiltonian Gallery, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the participating artists from the show. Going on to the second year of his fellowship with Hamiltonian Gallery, Bryan Rojsuontikul and I discussed the local art scene and his future outlook at his live in work space.

Atek: Describe your aesthetic.

BR: My works consist of a lot of color filled space and mixed media installations. There is a philosophical notion of chaos and order that underline the context of my works. I am interested in the exploration of new mediums and materials such as utilitarian materials.

Atek: What makes your style unique?

BR: I guess it would be my approach and the process of multimedia installations using everyday materials. Transforming space in a post-minimalist manner. It is about an investigative method of making art more than an end result. I don’t see an exhibition as the end of the works but a part of an ongoing process that spills out of the studio practice. A starting point.

Atek: Is there a common theme to your work?

BR: There is always a common theme in the works. Each work has a common thread whether in context, medium, or concept. One work usually influences the next. Color and non-traditional materials can be commonly found in the works.

Atek: What is the most important piece that you have created thus far?

BR: I would say it is “Gunmetal Blue and Bloodshed Red“.

Atek: Who are your influences?

BR: People, places, and things!

Atek: You turned your apartment into a studio. In regards to studio space, are there decent spots for artists to produce their work or a need for space in the District?

BR: Studio space in the District is very limited. I felt it would be a lot more efficient to turn my apartment into a studio. A lot of the artists I know usually work within their homes or apartments but overall there is a need for more studio spaces for artists. It would be nice to have more in the city.

Atek: What are your thoughts on DC’s art scene? What makes it unique compared to other cities?

BR: The DC art scene is a small scene. It is an intimate scene. You will see a lot of familiar faces at exhibitions and throughout the art community. DC has a lot of promise and potential and is moving in the right direction. This close knit community makes the DC art scene eccentric while offering art and artists that can be exhibited in any city.

Atek: If you could work with one artist (dead or alive), who would it be and why?

BR: That would be Tom Friedman. I like his post-minimalist approach on art and his obsessive labor intensive process of making art. Most importantly, I like how he manipulates ordinary materials into works that are experimental but refined.










Atek: How did you become involved with Activation 2719?

BR: I have known “No Kings Collective” for quite some time and was asked to be in the show as one of the artists.

Atek: What are your favorite galleries?

BR: My favorite gallery in DC would be Hamiltonian Gallery. I like the diversity of young emerging artist and professional artist working together. Most importantly I like how Hamiltonian Gallery supports the local art scene. Secondly my favorite museum is the Hirshhorn. I like to follow contemporary art and see what artists are doing today to change the current context. Third, Miami Basel which is an international art fair where the world of art comes to you in one city and its bliss. You can experience every type of art imaginable!

I just realized you asked in DC but I mentioned Miami . . . !








Atek: You have two openings on Saturday, one at Hamiltonian Gallery and the other with No Kings Collective at Activation 2719. Give us a glimpse of what to expect for your upcoming show, “Words in Space”, with the Hamiltonian Gallery?

BR: You can expect a lot of color filled space by way of multimedia installation and some thought provocative social commentary!










Words w/ Bryan Rojsuontikul [Activation 2719]

"Call + Response" at Hamiltonian Gallery

Through February 13

By Maura Judkis on February 5, 2010

Anyone who talks about a picture being worth a thousand words can stuff it. For “Call + Response,” Hamiltonian Gallery asked 16 visual artists to create responses to the poetry and prose of 16 writers. In many instances, the words surpass the visuals—as in Christian Howard’s “Spaghetti Western,” in which watching a cowboy flick on a hospital TV makes the writer contemplate mortality, and which is paired with an abstract, metallic print by Ian MacLean Davis. Likewise with Mike Scalise’s “Well, There’s Not Much We Can Do About That,” a vignette about an encounter with Mr. Rogers and an injured bird, which is met by Bryan Rojsuontikul’s tombstone epitaph, which does not explore the nuance of Scalise’s story. But the artists here have a tougher task—there’s a fine line between a work inspired by a story and an illustration.


"Call + Response" at Hamiltonian Gallery


Reviews: Conner Contemporary Art, Transformer, Hamiltonian, Irvine and Civilian

By Jessica Dawson

Friday, January 29, 2010

This critic has been hitting quite a few art openings lately. Here's some of what I've liked.

Kost and Baldwin at Conner

Enough drag queens to fill a bus preened for the art crowd at photographer/good-time-boy Jeremy Kost's splashy opening earlier this month. Leigh Conner, owner of Conner Contemporary Art, had bused in a gaggle of New York party people -- these the very same subjects of Kost's thousand-plus Polaroids now covering the gallery's walls. In Conner's back room, Taylor Baldwin's quirky sculptures configure castoffs (plastic foam cups, plastic crates) into objects worth looking at. Baldwin's best work here? The artist-made 'zine accompanying the show. Its diary-like entries detail the history of every component of this artist's decidedly mixed media.

"Snow Globe" at Transformer

If you were hanging with the drag queens at Conner, you missed Transformer's ballet-in-a-shoebox performance, "Snow Globe." A collaboration between artists Zach Storm and Jessica Cebra and the Washington Ballet studio company, "Snow Globe" used the gallery's diminutive size to its advantage: The one-off, hour-long ballet (choreographed by Septime Webre) featured company members dancing against a backdrop of icy blue walls and cardboard mountain peaks designed by Storm and Cebra. The resulting spectacle (music by Mozart, Air and Philip Glass, among others) was a complex spin on "mixed media."

"Call + Response" at Hamiltonian

The sweaty masses packed last weekend's "Call + Response," a collaborative exhibition that asked 16 artists to respond to stories by 16 writers, transforming the gallery into a giant, disjointed picture book. Standouts: Magnolia Laurie's delicate architectural fantasias done in gouache and graphite (though how they connect to Wade Fletcher's opaque text is befuddling.) Another hit: artist Bryan Rojsuontikul, who memorialized TV icon Mister Rogers via minimalist icons Carl Andre (yes, you may step on Rojsuontikul's linoleum tiles) and John Baldessari (those 1960s text paintings, which Rojsuontikul riffs on). The work is a shout-out to Mike Scalise, author of a story about the Cardiganed One's indifference to death.

Sebastian Martorana at Irvine

Like Bernini doing Bed, Bath & Beyond, Baltimore-based Sebastian Martorana sculpts the quotidian -- bath towels, crushed-up paper balls, a jacket -- out of marble. His "Uncommissioned Memorials" exhibition at Irvine Contemporary involves intriguing reversals, such as a trio of bath towels, bolted deep in the wall, that actually hold up the metal racks they "hang" from. The heaviest one -- rumpled beautifully -- weighs 140 pounds. Martorana is adept, manipulating stone into the perfect degree of nubby.

George Jenne at Civilian

No, you didn't just walk onto the set of a George Romero film. This is Brooklyn, N.Y., artist George Jenne's show of props for horror movies that never happened. Here, showmanship rules: Unparalleled production values meet stranger-than-fiction characters inspired by scary movies. Jenne's day job as a commercial prop designer ensures you won't soon forget the tongue wagging from that Hitler youth boy scout. Note to the nightmare-prone: Viewer discretion is advised.

Kost and Baldwin

At Conner through March 6.


"Snow Globe"

At Transformer through Feb. 20.


"Call + Response"

At Hamiltonian through Feb. 13.


Sebastian Martorana

At Irvine through Saturday.


At Civilian Art Projects through Feb. 13.

http://www.civilianartprojects.comDawson is a freelance writer.


George Jenne



Ryan Call Washington D.C. Show: Call + Response

Opening tomorrow at the Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington D.C. is Call + Response, a show consisting of the paired work of sixteen D.C. writers and sixteen D.C. artists. According to the press release, the show grew out of co-curators Kira Wisniewski and William Bert’s desire to draw together two groups in D.C.: writers and visual artists. Here’s a bit about the process behind the show from this article at BrightestYoungestThings:

Writers were given 2 months (September and October) to come up with 3 pieces of writing not longer than 500 words each and then in early November, the artists were selected (in random order) to read the pieces and select their favorite, resulting in a blind pairing between the artist and the writer.

Almost no communication between the pairings was allowed, and a week out of the meeting, aside from the size and art media perimeters Hamiltonian needed to start planning the hanging process, no one had seen any of the work.

Two of the writers in the show are Danika Stegeman and Joe Hall, whose poems HTMLGIANT featured in Sunday Service. For a full list of participating artists/writers, visit the bios section at the Call + Response website. And if you’re not in D.C. and can’t make the show, which runs through the end of February, there will be a chapbook featuring the pairings as well at the Call + Response website.

Kira and William kindly let me share with you one of the pairings below, a poem by Eleanor Graves and its response, a photograph by Lam Vuong. Please enjoy, and thank you for reading.


























Washington D.C. Show: Call + Response

The Weekend Guide: What to Do This Weekend











Holla back.

SEE Call + Response What: In a visual take on — you guessed it — call and response, writers pick themes for artists. Why: It takes two to make a thing go right. When: Thru Feb. 13. Opening reception, Sat., 7-9 p.m. Where: Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, b/t 13th & 14th Sts. (202-332-1116).

One Life: Echoes of Elvis What: Celebrate the King’s birthday with an exhibition, tribute concert, and screening of Viva Las Vegas. Why: Elvis is in the building. When: Sat., 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Where: National Portrait Gallery, 8th & F Sts. NW (202-633-1000).


EAT (and HELP) Dinner to Support Haiti What: Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj pledges partial proceeds from signature dishes like crispy spinach salad to aid victims. Why: Eat your heart out. When: Thru Feb. 19. Where: Any of Bajaj’s restaurants (Rasika701Ardeo,BardeoBibianaThe Oval Room, or The Bombay Club).

WATCH Battle of the Burlesque Stars What: Teams of saucy dancers shake, shimmy, and strip in a showdown. Why: Cut and pasties. When: Sat., 10 p.m. Where: The Palace of Wonders, 1210 H St. NE, at 12th St.(202-398-7469).

BRUNCH Bistro La Bonne What: Waffles, omelets, and champagne at the new French spot. Why: Bonne appetite. When: Sat. & Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Where: 1340 U St. NW, b/t 13th & 14th Sts. (202-758-3413).

Art: Excerpt from Ian MacLean Davis, Spaghetti Western, 2010. Courtesy of Hamiltonian Gallery

The Weekend Guide: What to Do This Weekend


Call + Response @ Hamiltonian Gallery

, DC Fine Arts Examiner

January 20, 2010 - Like this? Subscribe to get instant updates.


Sixteen writers and sixteen visual artists from Washington, D.C., and beyond have paired to create artworks that resonate with each other for a new exhibition, Call + Response. The show, which includes the work of a Guggenheim fellowship recipient and seven Hamiltonian Fellows, will run from January 23 until February 13, 2010, at the Hamiltonian Gallery (1353 U St, NW, Suite 101, www.hamiltoniangallery.com). An opening reception will be held on Saturday, January 23, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Call + Response’s participants have given a new twist to the term “call and response” (a succession of two distinct phrases played by different musicians in which the second phrase comments on or responds to the first). For each pairing, the writer has provided the call and the visual artist has created the response. The result is paired works that resonate with each other, building a bridge between two distinct but fertile communities.

The writers each wrote several short pieces, which were then distributed to the artists. One at a time, each artist selected a piece to respond to without knowing the identity of its author, until every author was paired with an artist. At the gallery, each artwork will be displayed together with the written piece to which it responds.

One pairing brings together writer Matt Klam and artist Anthony Dihle, both residents of D.C. Klam, the author of the short story collection Sam The Cat and a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, a Whiting Writers' Award, a National Endowment of the Arts grant, and a PEN/Robert Bingham Award, contributed a new story entitled At Donna's,Thanksgiving 1992. Dihle, who earned his BFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design and curated a show of D.C. indie rock concert posters at Civilian Art Projects in June 2009, is responding to it with a series of oil paintings.

Another pairing matches poet Eleanor Graves with artist Lam Vuong. Graves has been teaching poetry, literature, and composition since coming to the D.C., area in 2003. She received an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and is a recipient of the Mary Rinehart Award in Poetry, with poems appearing in Phoebe, Practice, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. Vuong was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, to Vietnamese refugees. His photography, watercolors, and installations deal with the nuances of loneliness and confusion in dating and Asian American culture. He started his MFA at CalArts last fall and is responding to Graves’ new poem Gorgeous Evasions with a photographic work.

Call + Response is co-curated by William Bert and Kira Wisniewski. “So many writers and artists live in D.C., and we wanted to get them talking to one another and sharing work,” says Bert. “We knew that what they produced would be something special.”

“Collaboration and communication are at the root of this project, and we hope that the paired works spark dialogue beyond the participants and into the community,” explains Wisniewski.

For a complete list of pairings, participant bios, and more information, please visit http://www.callandresponsedc.org and http://www.hamiltoniangallery.com.

Call + Response is sponsored by Hamiltonian Gallery, a new dynamic space in the heart of the growing Washington, D.C. contemporary art district. The gallery focuses on innovative works by emerging and mid-career artists. In conjunction with Hamiltonian Artists, the gallery will promote new artists, aiding in their further development. Through its dynamic exhibitions and gallery programs, Hamiltonian Gallery seeks to broaden the cultural dialogue within its modern community.








"Art Beat" With Stephanie Kaye - Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20, 2010 - (January 22-February 19) STORIES & MIGRATIONS ARCH Development in Anacostia hopes to lure audiences across the river with two exhibits called Stories andMigrations, opening Friday with a reception at 7 p.m. to benefit relief efforts in AfricaStories is at Honfleur Gallery. It includes pictures from Congo, Sudan and Uganda, captured during the travels of NBC news anchor Ann Curry and producer Antoine Sanfuentes. Meanwhile, just up the street and around the corner, Honfleur's sister gallery Vivid Solutions shows Migrations, pictures of life on the ground in Darfur from two vantage points: nomadic warriors and the refugees they have displaced. (January 23-February 13) SWEET SIXTEEN It's a sweet 16 party atHamiltonian Gallery on U Street in D.C., as 16 writers team up with 16 visual artists for an exhibition titled Call + Response, opening Saturday night and running through February 13th. The writers provided the words on which the artists based their works. At the gallery, the art and the writing will be displayed together.

Art Beat


Blake Gopnik on Frank Hallam Day's Mannequins at the Hamiltonian

By Blake Gopnik

Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, January 3, 2010

Imagine that all around you are images of physical beauty you can never live up to. This isn't just the kind of daily disappointment suffered by all non-supermodels. We're talking about a situation where almost no one in your entire society can ever come close to fulfilling its canons of beauty.

That's the situation Washington photographer Frank Hallam Dayhas documented, in a series of images now on view at the Hamiltonian Gallery on U Street. His nine large-scale color photos depict store mannequins he's discovered on his extensive travels in black Africa. Almost every mannequin he ever saw there was white. "Even in Cameroon, where all the mannequins are homemade of papier-mache and hand-painted, all were white or pink," Day wrote in an e-mailed explanation of his project.

Most of Day's mannequins are battered imports from the West, and you wonder if African shoppers sometimes take malicious joy in watching these white beauties decay. Day shot one mannequin twice in four years, and by the time he took his second photo, she was much the worse for wear.

There are other mannequins where an effort has been made to make them even more "beautiful" than when they left the factory. An attempt to paint new makeup onto one of these ladies leaves her with what one could only call a strikingly personal style.

And then there are a bunch of mannequins whose mix-and-match hairdos and clothes seem to give them a new take on high fashion, somewhere between girl-punk and heroine-chic -- Siouxsie Sioux meets Kate Moss.

But maybe I'm still looking at these mannequins with egocentric white eyes. It could be that, for African shopkeepers and their clients, Day's mannequins are not really much more than human-shaped clothes hangers. They are allowed to get dirty and ugly, because their whiteness has kept them from standing for beauty.

Frank Hallam Day's photos

are on view at the Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, through Jan. 16. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday noon to 6 p.m. Call 202-332-1116 or visit http://www.hamiltoniangallery.com.

Blake Gopnik on Frank Hallam Day's Mannequins at the Hamiltonian


Linda Hesh's 'For and Against Bench Project' encourages participation

Washington Post Staff WriterFriday, January 1, 2010

One work in "Bilateral Engagement" stands out for its immateriality. That's the "For and Against Bench Project," by Alexandria conceptual artist Linda Hesh








There is a sculptural component, of sorts. Out back of the museum sit two metal park benches the artist purchased from a commercial manufacturer. One, in turquoise, has the word "For" on it; the other, in red, reads "Against." Inside, there's a rotating slide show of photographs the artist shot featuring people sitting on one bench or the other during a series of public appearances by the benches in the Washington area, beginning in fall 2008. Captions come courtesy of her subjects; Hesh invited them to write what they were for or against on a clipboard. "Against Conformity" is a example.

The real work isn't the benches, though. It isn't even the photographs. Rather, it's the performance that takes place whenever someone stumbles upon them. It's all part of what exhibition curator Laura Roulet calls "relational aesthetics," meaning that the work changes because of your interaction with it. Go ahead and pull out your own digital camera. Make your own art. "I welcome that," says Hesh, whose two more benches on current view -- featuring the words "Doubt" and "Trust" -- sit outside Baltimore's Lyric Opera House.

In fact, the artist encourages visitors to e-mail her (linda@lindahesh.com) with their own photographs and captions.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

Linda Hesh's 'For and Against Bench Project' encourages participation