For some quick heat-relief, consider a visit with cool art works at a couple of up-market galleries in Mount Vernon.
The "Summer '15" exhibit at C. Grimaldis Gallery brings together three dozen pieces, most from recent years. Quality is high, as you expect from this establishment. The range of styles and media is considerable (so is the range of prices: $1,250 to $65,000).
A show that packs in watercolors, oils, light-based sculptures and even a large, textile-like work made up of bobby pins is nothing if not diverse and diverting.
Those bobby pins — 14,518 to be precise — form "Kentima #1 (Embroidery #1)" by Maria Karametou, who uses them to fashion more than just geometric beauty. The pattern in this large piece (54 by 72 inches) is certainly elegant, but beneath the surface are fascinating hints of nostalgia, gender expectations, concepts of beauty and form.
Karametou, who teaches at George Mason University in Virginia, studied at Maryland Institute College of Art with the late Grace Hartigan, who is also represented in this exhibit. Two of Hartigan's large, distinctive, boldly painted portraits — "Durer at Twenty-Two" from 1985 and "Mata Hari" from a few years before her death in 2008 — communicate richly.
Speaking of late artists, there's an irresistible collection of nine watercolor landscapes by Eugene Leake, who hired Hartigan at MICA during his tenure as the school's president. Leake's elegant brushwork and neo-Impressionist sensibilities are tellingly captured in these subtle images.
From Korean-born, Baltimore-based Chul Hyan Ahn comes "Well (Two Squares)." Inside a cast concrete frame in the shape of a well is another of the artist's trademark, irresistible LED light-and-mirrors creations. Peering inside, the viewer sees an endless vista, playful and profound.
Other attractions include Carol Young's "Scrolls and Sheets," which, from a distance appear to be old, rolled-up parchments. They're actually ceramic, and they're wonderful.
Four naive paintings by the late, self-taught Giorgos Rigas capture images of the artist's native Greece that pulsate with color, movement, and a sense of joy in the simple things that can bring communities together. There is a tenderness here, but a longing, too. You sense Rigas yearning to hold onto what is being lost.
Something nearly lost is the basis of Benjamin Kelley's "Untitled (Newport Skin)," one of the intriguing works in the "Untitled No. 6" exhibit at Randall Scott Projects (prices: $2,000 to $8,000).
Kelley gives a found object — a section of an upholstered seat from a 1971 Chrysler Newport — an unlikely artistic dimension. Within this rectangle of weathered material (the surface has an almost painterly quality), all sorts of ideas about industry, waste, shape and beauty seem to swirl.
Also by this MICA faculty member is a sculpture that includes what Kelley describes as an F-15 fighter jet fragment; the piece suggests an alligator, jaws open in anticipation of a good chomp.
Speaking of sculpture, MICA faculty member Ryan Hoover is represented by remarkable examples of his wall-mounted "Arborescent Algorithm Series" — miniature trees "created by an algorithm … written to simulate natural growth patterns" and fashioned using 3D printing. Walnut, aluminum and enamel also come into play here; the result is at once delicate and strong.
Abstract works using acrylic, sumi ink and collage by MICA alum Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann seem in danger of spreading beyond their confines. "Dripstone," for example, suggests an ongoing explosion of matter, glimpsed through, and also spilling through, a window frame. A feeling of unpredictable, uncontrollable energy is palpable.
A brief film, "Horizon," by MICA artist-in-residence Stephanie Barber rounds out the show. The video offers gauzy, watercolor-like imagery of people on horseback, accompanied by an excerpt of dialogue from the film classic "Lost Horizon" and the unexpected sound of a child asking, "Why is she talking like that?" A neat blend of the wistful and witty.