Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Urban life, construction sites serve as muse for new Project 4 art exhibit

Urban life, construction sites serve as muse for new Project 4 art exhibit
THE SUBURBS — U Street’s exclusive art exhibit, Project 4, is currently hosting a show entitled “Drive-By,” which features work inspired by construction and urban life.

Right in the heart of U Street — just a couple blocks down from the beloved Ben’s Chili Bowl and the African-American Civil War Memorial — hides “Project 4.”

One could walk up and down this restaurant-packed street daily and likely never notice the slim glass door that announces in fogged letters that you’ve found this tiny D.C. art gallery, which until March 5 will house the art exhibit “Drive By.”

This treasure of an art show will likely go unnoticed because of the quasi-secret location. But those lucky enough to get the tip-off are in for a treat with this small yet fantastic collection of suburban- and construction-inspired art created by six unique artists.

Once this gallery is located (1535 U Street) and you’ve walked through the door, up the stairs, onto a patio and finally into the suave apartment-turned-gallery, guests will be treated to a small and intimate collection of modern art that takes the mundane and creates beauty and nuance. The art ranges in style and mediums, from rich oils to computer-“animated digital drawings” but are all linked in motif.

Artist Gregory Thielker created large oils that all play with water and ice and their powers of reflection and distortion. His large-scale piece “Transference” 2010 is painted in such precision that it could be a photo of reflecting water in motion. The oil creates an abstract reflection of an indistinguishable scene of mundane gray but is gorgeous as the glass-like ripples he places in it catch a range of light and forms.

Many of the visitors became transfixed by a piece done by Michael A. Salter who works in the medium of animation. His piece “My House is Not My House” is essentially a plasma flat screen TV set in a black frame of plastic that creates silhouettes of suburban forms (foxes, powers lines, etc.) that enclose the screen. On the screen itself is a series of short scenes of suburban life.

The animation is simple with muted color schemes that appear in suburban life. Each animation depicted a different and simple house with only the slightest of movements occurring. Viewers tend to stand, with complete focus, at this piece anywhere from five to 20 minutes watching ants gather at a crack in the sidewalk or watching leaves fall around a mic and amp on a lawn.

Another piece making use of video was “CCTV East” by Zlatko Cosic which displayed four screens and within each was footage of a slightly different scene of pedestrian urban life as seen through holes in crumbling concrete. The almost-pinhole view of simple urban life forces the viewer to work harder to distinguish the scenes and therefore perceive more out of less.

In a question and answer session on Saturday, Feb. 5 with one of the featured artists Sarah McKenzie, a Boulder artist who worked mostly in rich oil with an emphasis on texture, McKenzie spoke about her previous project which spanned five years as she photographed suburban sprawls from hot air balloons.

Her work produced repetition-heavy images that spoke to the monotony of the areas. She took a different approach to the paintings presented in “Drive By,” which focused on the unique and foreign nature of the construction process. She explained that she chose to vary textures created by brush or the wood grain on which she painted to explore the process of constructing homes as a metaphor for creating a work of art.

Her painting “Fountain,” placed at the front of the gallery, is essentially a painting of a bathroom being constructed with a white porcelain toilette as the focal point. The oil works to turn what will eventually be mundane into something beautiful and contemporary. Not to mention that it serves as a clever nod to the Dadaist painter Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” ­­— an upside-down urinal — that served as a turning point in the history of art, challenging the world to consider what art could be. McKenzie’s pieces seek to continue the glorification of the mundane and unexpected.

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