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Review | In the galleries: A celebration of Latin American sculpture


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Centered on the floor of the front room of the University of Maryland’s Art Gallery are dozens of flip-flops in shades of green, arranged in a fan shape. But Tony Cappelán’s “Mar Caribe” isn’t just a cluster of objects found along a river in the Dominican Republic: On each sandal, in place of the strap that would ordinarily secure one’s big toe, is a loop of barbed wire, symbolizing hostile barriers and borders. The artist has turned cheap, castoff footwear into something harsh and menacing. In this installation, the piece also serves another function: pointing gallerygoers’ feet toward the bulk of “Re-Cast: Sculptural Works From the Art Museum of the Americas.”

The exhibition of rarely seen sculptural works from the downtown museum spans chronologically from 1942 to 2018 and stylistically from formalist to funky. The show was curated by Maryland graduate students Marco Polo Juárez Cruz, Cléa Massiani and Gabrielle Tillenburg, under the direction of professor Abigail McEwen.

Some of the pieces appeal primarily to the eye. Japanese Brazilian Yutaka Toyota interlocks arcs of shiny metal whose curved surfaces serve as sorts of funhouse mirrors. Ecuadoran Estuardo Maldonado aligns glistening, stainless-steel relief forms that shift from darker to lighter colors and from thicker to thinner widths. Slovakian Argentine Gyula Kosice dots a backlighted plastic half-orb with tiny nodes of glowing white, blue or red, suggesting a machine-tooled asteroid or moon.

There are no realist works, but a few are representational. Nair Kremer, who was born in Brazil to Jewish Austrian parents, plants a grove of seven abstracted wooden trees, or perhaps large flowers, free-standing on steel rods. Chilean Raúl Valdivieso Rodriguez renders the feathered serpent of Mesoamerican myth in greenish cast bronze, streamlining the creature to claw, beak and maw. Haitian Georges Liautaud cut and hammered pieces of iron into the rough body and stark cross of his “Crucifixion.” The anguished sculpture stands at the center of the gallery’s backroom, directly in the rugged path indicated by “Mar Caribe.”

Re-Cast: Sculptural Works From the Art Museum of the Americas Through Dec. 2 at the Art Gallery, Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building, University of Maryland, College Park.

Most of the works in “ARTgineering v2.0,” the sequel to Otis Street Art Project’s 2017 show, have mechanical or electronic elements. That doesn’t make them inhuman. Several respond to a visitor’s presence or contact: Touching the bow to one of the strings of Emily Francisco’s wired violin summons the sound of a radio station; approaching Michelle L. Herman’s slumped stuffed bear causes it to appear to breathe; and pressing a red button activates Kelly Heaton’s complex mixed-media assemblage, which is topped by a high-tech duck on a simulated pyre.

The movement is autonomous in Billy Friebele’s piece, whose blinking red lights mimic the action of a school of fish, as well as in Frank McCauley’s mesmerizing video of a figure in seemingly liquid motion below a shiny metal sheet. The video, reportedly done without special effects, seems to announce the existence of a new superhero: Mercury Man. A stack of variously colored lights animates Melissa Burley’s wall sculpture, made largely of found parts of furniture.

The pieces that don’t blink, glow or move are by Jason Bulluck (whose life-size “action figure” has been exhibited before locally) and Jason Gubbiotti. Gubbiotti’s three paintings may seem the least engineered works in the show, but the artist’s approach is to highlight his creations’ architecture. While Gubbiotti’s painting style is abstract, he contrasts the flat colors with notches and edges that insist on the pictures’ physicality.

ARTgineering v2.0 Through Dec. 3 at Otis Street Art Project, 3706 Otis St., Mount Rainier.

Wax is the common element in “Playing With Fire,” a six-artist show at Martha Spak Gallery, but several of the most striking pieces also rely on metal. Kevin Milstead’s sculptural paintings luxuriously combine wax and pigments with such soft metals as tin, lead and gold. The artist’s circular motifs suggest half-seen planets or a sun whose seemingly molten outline is liquefying from its own heat.

Milstead also places ginkgo leaves in tidy arrangements under wax, a strategy similar to that of Marty Ittner’s wax-coated bird collages. Cleanly rendered circles and lines dance under wax in David Evans’s abstractions, whose jazzy spirit recalls Mondrian. Katie Dell Kaufman’s work is also geometric, and sometimes incorporates 3D architectonic forms that give the pieces literal depth.

The other two contributors draw more from landscape, although not literally. Kathleen Anderson’s “View of the River” snakes a thin trickle of blue through a thickly patterned orange stripe. Nancy Hacskaylo evokes sky and earth by juxtaposing blue pigment with an expanse of heavily applied copper-colored powder. In this selection of wax-oriented art, metal has a robust supporting role.

Playing With Fire Through Dec. 4 at Martha Spak Gallery, 40 District Sq. SW.

The manual typewriter in the window of Addison/Ripley Fine Art gives a clue to Julia Bloom’s latest work. Initially conceived while in pandemic-period isolation, the D.C. artist’s new series employs densely overlapping typescripts as backdrops for simple, curved geometric forms drawn in charcoal. The text and the shapes are usually black and generally arrayed on colored handmade Asian paper. Bloom calls the pictures “Permission Slips” because they gave her leave to do something unprecedented in her career.

The pieces are modest in size and means, so it seems apt that they’re also, in a way, intimate: The words are said to be from Bloom’s diary, although they’re mostly illegible. (Nearly all are named for the 2021-22 date of an entry.) Aside from a few readable exceptions, the typed letters fulfill a purely visual purpose; the crush of tiny letters fills and defines space while contrasting the bold, solid-black partial circles. This is minimalism built atop reams of personal, if most hidden, detail.

Julia Bloom: Permission Slips Through Dec. 3 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW.



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