Kohler’s sculptures explore simplicity and serenity

Observers lean in close to the glass figures, trying to figure out where they’ve seen these simple structures before. Twisting fingers behind their backs, onlookers fight the urge to reach out and let their prints feel the frosty texture opposite their eyes. Minds are drawn back to summers at the beach; mesmerized visitors scan the gallery’s front windows as though watching the sand for precious bits of sea glass, waiting for time to work its magic on such a simple material.

Perhaps it’s just a Maine resident’s nostalgia pushing through, but Lucartha Kohler’s kiln-glass sculptures (The Zenith Gallery) shine with a naturally ancient undertone, bringing thoughts to a calmer region void of Calculus homework and other worries. Instead of getting caught up with portraying the wonders of the world through a collage of jumbled materials and ideas, Kohler focuses on basic shapes and forms that have appeared throughout history, letting them speak as their own form of prose.

The show welcomes visitor with an array of Kohler’s work, presenting two of her new series, “Harmony’s Realm of Light” and “Vicious Circles and Infinity.”

Each sculpture could easily stand on its own. But her cast glass sculpture “Return” really caught my attention. The gear-like, frosted white shape perched atop a yellow reverse-triangle sits in a pool of sunlight from a frontal window. Its iciness projects onto the faces of businessmen rushing by, three-year-olds dragging their work-weary mothers behind them and worn sidewalks. If only Washington’s people realized that the secret to stepping back in time was only a doorstep or Metro ride away from their regular haunts.

Often the term “glass sculpture” carries the psyche immediately to blown glass vases and paperweights, forms that perfectly reflect their surroundings while entertaining a swirling palate of colors. To get to the primal center of a glass sculpture, you have to know how to look under the surface, to peel its secrets off, one layer after another; the deeper you go, the more layers there are.

The layers can best be seen on art objects made of glass. They are, for the most part, immobile and translucent, and maybe because of that that they take on such a mystifying impression. It looks as though they are hiding within some other space, made invisible by their transparency. Such are Kohler’s objects, to an extent. Not because of the modern techniques used – it is common knowledge that these are both quite complex and difficult – it is mainly because of the subjects she chooses, for their vibrancy of primary and secondary colors. It’s in the boldness of each work’s shape and execution, their progression towards a more contemporary feel, rooted within her more archetypal symbols from past works.

For someone like myself, a student surviving on cereal and longing for something recognizable to cling to, the Zenith Gallery offers a show that proves to be the next best thing to owning one of Kohler’s sculptures.

The Zenith Gallery is located at 413 7th St. NW, and is open Monday from 11 to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Friday 11 to 6 p.m., Saturday 12 to7p.m. and Sunday 12 to 5pm.

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