Arts Desk

Reviewed: Frank DiPerna and Dan Tague at Civilian Art Projects

Frank DiPerna’s exhibit at Civilian Art Projects is all about flatness, both real and contrived. DiPerna, a photographer and professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, has traveled the globe documenting murals and other wall surfaces, from a gate spray-painted with skulls in Mexico to a Dolce & Gabbana ad on a beach in Venice, Italy, to dolphins painted on a wall at the National Zoo. (The most amusing is an advertisement featuring a reclining, mostly naked model with one of those take-one, pull-off notices placed strategically on her crotch.)

Yet DiPerna’s surplus of planar views becomes somewhat numbing, making those with any depth at all some of the most noteworthy, such as a spatially disorienting image of humble iron gates guarding a rococo natural grotto in Italy (below) and an eccentric trio of mannequins lounging outside a columned colonial in Southampton, N.Y.

More varied is the work of Dan Tague, whose pieces reference a range of movements from punk to Occupy Wall Street. Some of Tague’s pieces verge on simplistic agitprop, but that only makes his more level-headed work seem all the more clever. His inkjet prints of enlarged, crumpled dollar bills mesmerize, with precise folds that use existing lettering on the bills to reveal hidden messages, such as “resistance is futile” and “we need a revolution.” (A few of his similar works not in the show offer such gems as “the end is near,” “trust no one” and “holy shit.”) More understated, but slyly effective, is a pseudo real estate ad for “D.C. Listings – National Mall Area.” The piece, suggestive of the 70s conceptual art of Hans Haacke and others, offers tongue-in-cheek listings for the Washington Monument and the Treasury Department … and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which, the ad promises, could be turned into an “upscale mall to escape the grind of bureaucracy.” As they say, art imitates life.

Through Oct. 20, 2012, at Civilian Art Projects, 1019 7th St NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 607-3804.

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  • Jayme McLellan

    Thanks for the great review. One tiny fact I wanted to point out - that natural grotto that you mention in Frank DiPerna's show is a poster of a grotto, not the real thing.

    The artificiality of the grotto image, obscured by the fence and red ribbon, kind of makes the whole show work. So in a way, the numbing you describe directly references image saturation in contemporary culture and begs us to question notions of what is real in photography.

    This conversation, central in that image, is a thesis in his work. What, if anything, can be considered "real" through the lens?

    If the images are numbing, it is because they are distillations of the all too familiar. In my opinion, the amount of work forces us to question the imagery and laugh at the strange intersections of what we consider real versus fake. Hyper-carefully edited over five years by a photographer and professor with 40+ years teaching history, the work is more than carefully chosen. It is selected to create a rhythm and force contemplation. If that rhythm is numbing, so be it. That's one response.

    About the show, a casual viewer said "photographs of photographs, huh?" Well, yes. The exhibition is that and much more.

    In my humble opinion, the work is the conversation happening in photography right now. It is about the rectangle and how you make sense of what goes in it. It is about representation. The images are intuitively found and the presentation is carefully planned and executed.

    Through this exhibition, DiPerna continues to teach us about the nature of photography.