Fowler is one of several minimalists in this group. The Ukrainian-born Elena Volkova prints small photographs of wispy skies on large sheets of paper; her “airscapes” are a visual equivalent of barely there aural environments such as Brian Eno’s “Discreet Music.” Theo Willis’s “1000 Layers” series applies that many coats of Antique White commercial house paint (in various finishes) on square wooden panels. The works reduce painting to its scantest possibilities, which might be a zen exercise. But Willis also includes record sheets that tally each coat, so as to emphasize the method as much as the result.
Some of the work is more assertive. Kim Manfredi dribbles enamel drops on areas of wet paint, yielding compositions that seem liquid and organic; the blobs suggest eyes, cells, halved fruit and other pulpy, near-spherical things. John M. Adams’s “Confluence” is an elegant, vine-like wall drawing that stretches around a corner, insisting that the viewer follow it. Steven Pearson’s two paintings are bright and busy, designed to represent “the daily ‘scape’ of hyper-connectivity and floods of data.” The painter’s “Don Quixote’s Folly,” constructed from a jumble of panels, also evokes graffiti and the hot tones of 1960s art, both fine and commercial.
The one landscape painter in the lineup, Rachel Sitkin, doesn’t take a romantic view of nature. The artist travels west to make gouaches of surface mining pits, which are depicted with surprisingly delicate color and technique. Portraying the curves of etched earth in blues and browns, “Morenci, AZ” is almost beautiful, yet altogether clear-eyed.
The first in a planned series of “Exchange” shows, the exhibition at Project 4 Gallery features 10 images made by six photographers. The dialogue is not among the photogs, whose work varies from Jati Lindsay’s high-contrast black-and-white to Josh Cogan or Caitlin Teal Price’s deep-shadowed color. The conversation comes, quite literally, from writer and actor Sheldon Scott, who chose the pictures for the stories he could make them tell. Each is accompanied by a monologue, audible via smartphone, that Scott invented without input from the photographers.
The photos are all of the District and mostly of areas that have changed dramatically in the past 20 years: Columbia Heights, the “new” Southwest, Eighth Street NE, 14th Street and Florida Avenue NW. A few are less specific — a bar, a Metro train — but all are places of conflict. Or at least that’s how Scott tells it. In his vignettes, longtime residents denounce gentrification or regret redevelopment strategies. In one, a transplant cries in his beer about all the city’s fabled flaws — including that it’s full of transplants. Most of what the guy says is cliche-ridden, but Scott’s tales show how powerful received wisdom can be. It can even trump the “objective” images made by a skilled photographer.