White meat only, please

Meat Market – sounds like another metro-sexual commercial space trying to appear edgy and raw (pun intended, one assumes).

The narrow 17th Street venue is actually a former butcher shop. Interestingly enough, the work of Christopher L. Williams’ “Carniceria” and J.J McCracken’s “Stasis” cater to this previous identity. On Feb 2, Williams’ sculptural installation and McCracken’s performance/installation came together in an explosion of achromatic contemporaneity.

A true virgin to the D.C. gallery world, I entered the space with great caution. The two-story ceilings could barely contain the lofty cabernet-soaked conversations of swarming scenesters. In some clusters the art seemed secondary to the schmoozing. Rather than get P.O.-ed at such a monstrous din, I decided to embrace it as beautifully juxtaposed with the quiet art surrounding it.

William’s exhibit is seen first. He explores the history of the space, its current use and its location through the use of three quotes taken from three different sources. Those sources include a collection of essays from the Harvard University Center for Latin-American Studies, a project done for the Tate (London) by Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska, and the “Defense of Marriage Act.”

Each quote comprises a different facet of the exhibit which Williams blends through colorless, sculptural repetition. Globular, osteoid projections alternate with massive 3D polygons, facets of which were emblazoned with the selected quotes. While some shapes hung statically from long dowels and others were plastered seamlessly into the drywall, every surface was starkly white – not a glossy, in-your-face white, but rather a powdery, matte-plaster white. The only gradations of color are the subtle grays of shadows cast behind the sculptures.

Moving towards the back of the gallery, I exited William’s vertical world of towering installations through clear vinyl car-wash curtains. I entered another white room, about half the size of the first containing McCracken’s “Stasis,” an exploration of preservation through a series of performances. Inside, three performers wore polarized glasses, identical jumpsuits, beanies and booties all in the signature color of the evening – you guessed it, white.

Each had their own workstation containing tools that were either white to begin with or painted to be so, forming an unapologetically antiseptic assembly line. The first “worker” threw small uniform vases out of porcelain on a pottery wheel. The second would vacuum-seal these vases, still wet and pliable, in plastic bags. The third and final member of the assembly line weighed, labeled and mounted each bag on the adjacent wall. The bags are priced individually by weight: $16 per pound. I was fascinated. Perhaps I missed McCracken’s objective, but I was more fascinated by the feeling that the performance generated than the physical end-result: bags of smushed clay vases methodically displayed on the wall. The performers didn’t speak, react to external stimuli or cease activity once. Even when a loud-mouth drunkard awkwardly shouted “YOU’RE ALL UNDER ARREST,” the Oompa Loompa-esque workers carried on unflinchingly. The colorless explorations of “Carniceria” and “Stasis” make for a powerful “first-time” experience with the colorful contemporary art community of D.C.

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