City Paper's Capps reviews Dan Perkins + Adam Ryder

Perkins’ palette is rich but regular

“Alone in the Woods” and “Renovatio Imperii” At Hamiltonian to Sept. 12

“Sky Stack” by Dan Perkins (2015)

The surface of “Sky Stack” is so delicious, you could dip into it with a spoon, as if it were a bowl of ice cream. It’s a painting by Dan Perkins, a recent American University grad who demonstrates control and precision with tone and gradient. “Sky Stack”is pleasant: a landscape oil painting, in which a rhombus of bright blue day intersects the sky of a piney hill scene at sunset. “Sky Stack” is so good that it might just be bad for you.

“Alone in the Woods”—a show of new paintings by Perkins, and one of two exhibits on view at Hamiltonian Gallery—gets high marks on execution. Perkins fades oranges and pinks expertly in the sherbet sunsets that appear in most of his scenes, and his framing device enables him to combine colors in ways that nature never intended. In “Mountains on Mountains,” an image of a mountain, distant in the horizon, is set in front an image of another mountain closer to the viewer, which rises over a lake, which is itself set over a lavender field of abstract color. Stacks on stacks.

Perkins’ palette is rich but regular. He dilutes what would otherwise be a traditional landscape format by carving up the composition, splicing scenes to create geometric fissures in the space-time fabric. Yet even this touch is conservative. The landscape in “Looking Down,” for example, looks like a scene from an aircraft window, depicted in a painting that also includes the plane’s rounded window frame.

The landscapes might be anywhere; locale is beside the point. Control is the purpose behind these paintings. They recall something like Laura Owens’ early work, but without that special thing that let her paintings turn into what they are today: wild and frothy, yet totally under her command. Perkins’ paintings are too tightly wound, and they take a bit too much pleasure in their own pure painterliness to do too much. Delicious: high in calories, but low in content.

“Renovatio Imperii,” also on view at Hamiltonian, is a tour through Adam Ryder’s paranoid mind. Through photos and some found objects, Ryder opens a Dan Brownian investigation into the Renovatio Imperii, the shadowy fraternity that shapes Washington power and the invisible hand guiding global affairs. It’s an Illuminati show illuminated by color prints.

It could easily serve as the picture round of a D.C. pub quiz tournament: Photos of rooms and artifacts from the World Bank, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, and the Masonic Temple are easy enough to identify. “Oculus,” a photo of the oculus in the National Gallery of Art, which is rimmed by the Greek meandros symbol, looks like a thousand other photos of the skylight—but here, it’s presented as evidence.

Ryder’s photos look staged, like press photos, a presentation that runs contrary to the whole concept of a medieval conspiracy that has persisted through the present day. He’s included an infographic, a black pyramid that breaks down the hierarchy of power within the Renovatio Imperii, but it doesn’t quite line up with his offering of very known, mostly public, largely memorial spaces as true bastions of secret authority. (How much more mysterious might it’ve been if he’d thrown in, I don’t know, a suggestion of non-ceremonial spaces—a dilapidated warehouse in Ivy City, or an unassuming restaurant on Barracks Row?)

But Ryder doesn’t go far enough with his investigation to convince viewers to look past the photos to see something more, something darker. A convincing deception (or revelation?) would require something more immersive, like a multimedia performance. There are a handful of ceremonial vestiges presented in a vitrine, but that’s it. “Renovatio Imperii” doesn’t stand up as a playful investigation into the secret corridors of power in Washington. Without the gamesmanship, Illuminati artifacts seem simply whackadoodle—or worse, touristy.

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Washington Post reviews Lisa Dillin + Allison Spence

Washington Post reviews Lisa Dillin + Allison Spence

simulated fragments of suburban life

In the Galleries

by Mark Jenkins - July 25

Lisa Dillin and Allison Spence

“You are important to us,” recites the recorded message from the intercom attached to a white wall. The sentiment is insincere, of course, as is every artifact in Lisa Dillin’s “I’m looking for you . . .” at Hamiltonian Gallery. The Baltimore artist presents simulated fragments of suburban life, hinting at the larger simulation practiced by the developers of instant “communities.”

The most complicated piece is a working fountain, framed by polished stone to signify Euro-classical refinement, that burbles blandly in the center of the gallery. It looks like something ripped, complete with plumbing, from a shopping mall. Also included are a slab of composite flooring, mounted on the wall, and a 13-foot-wide print of a golf-course-like vista, partially obscured by a curtain. The grassy emptiness that’s visible is tidily scenic but suggests a sort of upscale quarantine. So does the Muzak-like ditty that plays after that intercom message: “All by Myself.”

While Dillin excavates the ’burbs, Allison Spence considers science fiction movies, horror comics and how they depict the human body. Her “More human than I am, alone,” also at Hamiltonian, takes its title from a line in David Cronenberg’s “The Fly.” To illustrate that bit of dialogue, the D.C. artist made some paintings that are crumpled and then varnished into permanently clenched disarray. Two unrumpled canvases recall Francis Bacon’s butcher-shop treatment of the human form, combined with the ever-manipulable quality of digital imagery. Whether stretched flat or randomly jumbled, Spence’s pictures are mutable and implicitly violent.

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Kriston Capps reviews Larry Cook's “Stockholm Syndrome”

issues of image and representation in the city’s black population

“Some of my best friends are black” by Larry Cook (2014)

Larry Cook may be the artist D.C.’s been waiting for. While D.C. looks less like Chocolate City and more like Chocolate-Chip City with every passing day, here’s an artist who dwells on issues of image and representation in the city’s black population—and he’s finding sure footing. Since he graduated with an MFA from George Washington University in 2013, he’s been named as a finalist for both the Trawick Prize in Bethesda and the Sondheim Artscape Prize in Baltimore, two of the highest honors in the region.

Cook’s second solo show at Hamiltonian Gallery, “Stockholm Syndrome,” sees him navigating a subtle racial dividing line. This spare show builds on other fictions about black identity, namely two classic films about slavery, to create a multimedia meta-fiction of his own. It’s big, national-picture thinking. And yet the most compelling takeaway in “Stockholm Syndrome” is a narrow one.

At first glance, “Some of My Best Friends Are Black” looks very current: White neon letters spell out the titular phrase along one of the gallery’s long walls. But this is a throwback piece: Cook is plainly sampling well-worn art history here. Text-plus-neon is signature Bruce Nauman and Glenn Ligon (and Joseph Kosuth and Tracey Emin and maybe some others). The phrase itself is mordant shorthand, a quip about the kind of excuse that white people use to preface whatever appalling thing they think about black people. Both the content and the form are vintage, snarky, and cynical.

It’s as if Cook is embracing and dismissing contemporary art as a way to tell some truth about being black—like he’s lost confidence in photography, his former medium of choice, or maybe art altogether. Once upon a time, contemporary art really did matter. Women artists, artists of color, and queer artists took up conceptual, performance, and installation art as an alternative to sculpture, painting, and even photography. The barriers to entry were lower for contemporary art. Nobody needed a degree or money or access to use a photocopier, or her body, or her ideas, to make new work. All that has changed.

Other works in “Stockholm Syndrome” don’t offer the same grip. A sound installation and a video installation borrow clips, respectively, from Roots and 12 Years a Slave. These nod at the cultural construction of black identity, but they seem to lack a working theory. They aren’t out to prove something about form. Cook also offers up “Whitewashed,” a series of text installations, gorgeous plates rendered in plexiglass and wood frames. In these, Cook references everything from medieval art history by Kurt Weitzmann to From Babylon to Timbuktu, a source for the Black Hebrew Israelites (you know, the shouty guys outside the Gallery Place–Chinatown Metro station). Taken together, they read like deliberate non sequiturs, but I can’t quite find the thread.

“Stockholm Syndrome” feels inscrutable because it’s incomplete. Cook’s mixing up his modes to make his point now, where content carried his photography. This is good. Amid the national fury over police brutality, housing inequality, every kind of inequality—all these issues that have always been with us but have only now taken pride of place at the top of the newshour—Cook is working at a whisper. His focus is acute. His concentration is Vulcan. This is fine. But viewers need to see more to know whether Cook can channel these efforts into a full roar.

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Dane Winkler reviewed in Washington Post

Dane Winkler reviewed in Washington Post


there is an industrial aspect

The Washington Post | Mark Jenkins, May 1

In the galleries: Inspired by their homelands and beyond

Because he grew up on a farm, Dane Winkler does not see agriculture as pastoral. There is an industrial aspect to “Chassis,” his show at Hamiltonian Gallery, which consists principally of two large sculptures and two ­12-minute video loops. A University of Maryland MFA student from Upstate New York, Winkler puts real-world building skills in the service of what he calls “mystery.”

One sculpture, titled “A-L-I-C-E” after a favorite cow the young Winkler saw being butchered, consists of two large hanging bales of raw wool that rotate periodically on a motorized steel scaffold. The other, “Setting Sail: Gettin Outta Dodge,” is a wooden pontoon boat accompanied by audio of nature sounds. The craft looks a little ungainly, but it is river worthy, as one of the videos demonstrates. (The other documents the construction.) Though potentially practical, the boat is becalmed in the gallery. If the vessel’s location alone doesn’t make it appear outlandish, its built-in cup holder tips the balance toward absurdity.

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Dane Winkler: Chassis On view through May 9 at Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St. NW, Suite 101. 202-332-1116.

Kriston Capps reviews Naoko Wowsugi in City Paper

Naoko Wowsugi + Whoop Dee Doo

Make your art professor a gift for her birthday. No pressure.

“Here, Throw This Off A Building” by Randall Lear (2013), courtesy of Hamiltonian Gallery

Some people can be so difficult about their birthdays. Expensive dinners, cabin weekends, a birthday penumbra that expands until you find yourself celebrating someone’s birthday week or birthday month—birthday-zillas are always wrecking the calendar. But nobody goes as big on her birthday as Naoko Wowsugi.

For the last few years, Wowsugi, an art professor at American University, has asked her students to make her a birthday present as a class project. In addition to video art, Wowsugi teaches a class called “Time-Based Media,” which you’ll find over in the performance wing (so to speak). “I don’t need more material possessions,” her class prompt reads. “You don’t need to butter me up. I want experiences as my birthday gifts.”

“Assignment: Happy Birthday”—a show by Wowsugi at Hamiltonian Gallery—is as clever as exhibits come. Wowsugi’s work here isn’t her own, but rather the work of her students, meaning the artist’s titular role in the show’s production is somewhere between curator and conductor. The work on view may be the students’, but it deserves an asterisk, too: This isn’t an American University group art show so much as a collection of exercises urged by a professor’s prompt. “Assignment” is challenging along an author-artwork spectrum of analysis, but it’s also a big birthday jumble of fun and frivolity (and failure).

There are some Fs to be handed out after “Assignment,” for sure. Angel Samudre’s “Time-Based Studio Sings Naoko Wowsugi’s Philosophy of Teaching in the Style of John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt” (2014) is exactly what it sounds like. (Or worse, since the students can’t carry a tune.) Students are forever learning the wrong lessons from the wildly inventive performance artist Baldessari: Do as he does, not what he does. Rebekah Pike’s “3 Red and 2 Green” (2012) comprises found products made with apple coloring or flavoring—give the teach an apple, get it?—but that doesn’t seem to meet the parameters of the assignment.

Another student went far beyond the classroom’s walls (and U.S. borders) to fulfill the project. HwaJin Shin notes in her video, “The Route to Home” (2012), that Wowsugi’s birth certificate features an address that places her permanent home in the middle of a field in South Korea. (Wowsugi, an artist of Japanese and Korean descent, has studied art at Osaka University of Arts in Japan and the Kansas City Art Institute, and received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University.) So Shin—from her classroom at VCU, where Wowsugi was teaching at the time—asked family and friends back home in South Korea to drive some four hours to plant a tree at the GPS coordinates indicated as Wowsugi’s address. The video is searching and sincere—too earnest, really, but also an interesting redirect, with Shin essentially assigning out an endurance performance to people who’d be willing to do it for her, if not for Wowsugi.

Then there’s Tim Hoyt’s “Magnified Reciprocity” (2014). I don’t know whether to give it the lowest or highest marks, which makes it a compelling piece, albeit maybe the least likable one in the show. For Wowsugi’s birthday, Hoyt composed a new piece of music for her. I’m no music critic, but to my ear, the song’s swells of synthesized-sounding harmonies sound indistinguishable from those of Brooklyn electronic-rock duo Ratatat. (I wonder, in fact, whether it might be a remix.)

To make this a piece of time-based art, not just a piece of music, Hoyt video-recorded Wowsugi (and himself) as she listens to the song for the first time. “Magnified Reciprocity” is an indulgent video: The two sit face to face against a stark backdrop, co-stars in this birthday production, Hoyt beaming as Wowsugi concentrates on the sounds streaming through her headphones. It’s a total jerk move. (Imagine your boyfriend making a video about your reaction to his very special gift for you.) With “Magnified Reciprocity,” Hoyt has made Wowsugi’s birthday about Hoyt.

Then again, why shouldn’t he? There’s nothing organic about “Assignment,” after all. Maybe Hoyt felt pressed into service, celebrating his professor’s birthday. Or maybe he simply perceived that he’s the artist creating work here, not her. Hoyt’s poncy video makes us face the facts: There’s a touch of selfishness to even the most generous gestures. Sometimes favors have to be earned.

Another twist in the show, Erin Nanney’s “Eulogy” (2014), took the prompt in the opposite direction. Instead of celebrating her professor’s birthday, Nanney ends her life. Video of the undertaking shows Wowsugi standing in the wings like a ghost attending her own funeral, one who can’t keep a straight face throughout the somber ceremony. Several students say words, not all of them especially reverent, in the video, which is embedded in a shrine. Here’s where some of the cynicism I see in Hoyt’s work might’ve done Nanney some good: What does a literal 180-degree pivot on the prompt get for Nanney? Maybe an A, but not an artwork.

For “Here, Throw This Off a Building” (2013), Randall Lear handed Wowsugi a package with those instructions. Although she didn’t know it, inside were several paintings and projects that Lear had made earlier in his young career. This made the professor the unknowing participant in an act of creative destruction. By dint of Wowsugi’s assignment, Lear made new work from old; thanks to Lear, Wowsugi got to throw stuff off a building for her birthday. That’s an experience worth remembering—and so is Wowsugi’s art exhibit.

Bonkers is the only word to describe the opening-night performance by Whoop Dee Doo (if a video of the event is any indication). The work of artists Matthew Roche and Jaimie Warren since 2006, Whoop Dee Doo is a traveling performance troupe that incorporates whoever’s near and whatever’s at hand for anything-goes installations. For “Baphy Hirpday 2012,” Whoop Dee Doo turned Hamiltonian’s birthday-themed exhibit into a full-on U Street party.

The centerpiece of “Baphy Hirpday” is a cake, surrounded by walls lined with presents. What makes the piece sing, though, are students from the Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute, a martial-arts studio located just next door, as well as performers from the Girlz With Glam after-school program. While artists always pay lip service to incorporating the community, it’s a rare delight to see it done so fabulously.

What a baphy hirpday it was. A dancing Chinese dragon! A gift-box hiding a drummer! Girls camouflaged as birthday cake! Choreographed martial artists! Dark eclectic synths! By the looks on the kids’ faces, “Baphy Hirpday” was as much a present for them as for Wowsugi or anybody else. Whoop Dee Doo delivered a special gift for viewers: a reminder that art is the icing on the cake.

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In the galleries: At Hamiltonian, a birthday celebration of a different sort

In the galleries: At Hamiltonian, a birthday celebration of a different sort
 January 30 

Every year since 2011, art professor Naoko Wowsugi has asked her students to give her an experience for her birthday. The request is not an expression of narcissism — well, not entirely — but an assignment, first at Virginia Commonwealth University and more recently at American University. Some of the supposed highlights of this exercise are on display at Hamiltonian Gallery, along with a video of a birthday event choreographed by Whoop Dee Doo, a performance-art duo.

The idea for “Assignment: Happy Birthday” may sound odd, but some of the show’s ingredients are routine. Balloons and confetti litter the floor, piles of gift boxes line the wall and birthday cake appears as both a massive sculptural prop and — in a smaller, softer form — something student Toby Nguyen pushed in her prof’s face. Such gestures are documented in photos or videos, so gallery-goers can watch, for example, Wowsugi’s first listen of the electronic music that Tim Hoyt composed for her.

There’s always one apple-polisher who makes a bigger play than everyone else. Wowsugi was born in Japan, where her family has lived for several generations, but her heritage is Korean. So HwaJin Shin enlisted family and friends to travel to her teacher’s ancestral home in South Korea and plant a ginkgo tree. This gift may have gone literally too far, but shouldn’t art overreach?

The implicit hostility of some students’ responses is understandable, and it didn’t stop with in-your-face cake splats. Randall Lear made his professor into an aesthetic assassin, giving her a bag and asking her to throw it off a roof as often as she liked. It turned out that the bag contained the art he had made as a student. Erin Nanney staged a death ceremony for Wowsugi, at which the teacher’s presence was ignored. This idea is more disturbing if you know (did Nanney?) that mock funerals are among the vicious ploys of Japan’s notorious school bullies.

Wowsugi contributed no art to the show, but it could be argued that she has devised a new version of the venerable artistic practice of employing a workshop of assistants. As a learning experience, though, her assignment seems dubious. Can subversion really be taught in a classroom? Rather than wish her students “happy birthday,” perhaps the professor should echo the motto of onetime Harvard lecturer Timothy Leary: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Source: The Washington Post