Arts Desk

Reviewed: Kate MacDonnell and Noelle K. Tan at Civilian Art Projects

Civilian Art Projects was on to something when they paired photographic exhibits by Kate McDonnell and Noelle K. Tan. Though MacDonnell works in color and Tan uses black and white, both are apt to dwell on voids.

In her current body of work, MacDonnell, who lives and works in D.C., trains her lens on the sky, finding a striking variety of scenes—an enormous (and surprisingly painterly) black belch of smoke (top), a mist-shrouded mountain, birds frozen midflight, and an eruption of fireworks that the artist cheekily labels a “gamma ray burst approximation.” MacDonnell's most eloquent images are her most elemental: an inky black sea nocturne with ominous bolts of lightning in the distance, and a dark sky with mysterious blue streaks.

Meanwhile, Tan follows up her previous D.C. exhibits with new examples of her starkly overexposed/underexposed signature style. Not all of Tan’s images work equally well—sometimes the more representational works turn out bland—but, as with MacDonnell, less is usually more. Tan skillfully captures a well-lit barn standing sentinel on a dark hill; a lovely and enigmatic arc of lights; a crappy-looking one-story motel transformed into a distinguished minimalist string of lights; a lonely school bus in a nighttime parking lot illuminated by a starburst of light (bottom); and a cactus enveloped by an ethereally overexposed brightness, an image that suggests Harry Callahan’s celebrated sprigs emerging from snow.

Through March 9 at Civilian Art Projects, 1019 7th St. NW. (202) 607-3804. On view 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

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