For thirty years, the District of Columbia Arts Center has weathered the vagaries of the DC’s artistic landscape; few local arts organizations can lay claim to such an extensive history of showcasing visual and performing arts. Then/Again: A Gallery Exhibition 30 Years Later marks this noteworthy anniversary, inviting artists who participated in the gallery’s inaugural exhibition to display works that document their current interests. Curators Philip Barlow and Pat Goslee have created a show that engenders a sense of togetherness despite its disparate visual themes. The exhibition comes to serve as a celebration of not just the artwork on the walls, but the storied careers of the artists themselves.
Barlow and Goslee faced unique curatorial challenges in programming the exhibition, tracking down artists who have spread across the country over the course of thirty years . Nine of the sixteen original artists are on display here with work that leans heavily towards photography and mixed-media. One notable inclusion is the work of Michael Platt who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year; the nude figure sitting amidst a multi-hued background in Transported (2016) is quickly identifiable as major visual theme of his work in recent years.
Also noteworthy are the mixed-media works of Beverly Ress, Sherwin Mark and Frederick Nunley. With Study #1 (2018), Ress creates an organic, sculptural form that leaps from the surface of a simple sheet of paper. She pushes these sculptural qualities even further with Beatch (2019), creating a woven form that partially engulfs the drawing beneath it. The meaning is unclear, but the netting that seeks to engulf the seed pod beneath it suggests notions of fertility. Also indeterminate yet intriguing is Mark’s Untitled (n.d.), a sculptural installation comprised seemingly of found objects. The materials, hung in a grid-like pattern on the gallery wall, seem to have no obvious relationship to one another, yet are united by their color palette and tactile qualities. Nunley’s Log Cabin Improv (2019) also initially confounds the eye with its use of yellow and orange hues before its abstract-expressionist patterns rise to attention.
Of the photographic works on display, two artists in particular use perspective and focus to achieve unique results. David Emerick’s Offing 8698 (2019) captures a thin pink horizon line sandwiched between a sea and sky of gray. The effect is at once ethereal and painterly. Where Emerick’s vision is vast in scale, a suite of six images by Darrow Montgomery focuses our attention on small, intimate scenes directly in front of us. Untitled (Fence) (2014) and Untitled (Overgrown Lot)(2015) in particular use shifting perspective to pull our eyes to the front of the picture plane by displaying quotidian materials–chain link steel and thin branches–in sharp focus as the visual elements just behind fade into the distance.
Then/Again demonstrates that while these artists’ materials may have changed over time, they still maintain a distinctive creative vision that drives their work. The curators underscore this notion, noting that in several cases these artists are now using modern materials and/or processes that were yet to be invented thirty years ago. While I would have appreciated seeing images or documentation (if such exists) of the original exhibition to gain a sense of their early aesthetic interests, I certainly get the sense that creative adaptability is key to the longevity of both individual artists as well as the institutions who support them.
Then/Again: A Gallery Exhibition 30 Years Later runs though April 28, 2019 at the District of Columbia Arts Center in Adams Morgan. For more information, visit the center’s website here.