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The works of Ivan Pinkava, a prominent Czech photographer, confirm many of the stereotypes Americans have about Eastern European art: It’s intellectually ponderous, and very, very gray. Sometimes, that’s OK. Pinkava has a special ability to make even the most ordinary items seem threatening, such as the floral-patterned comforter in what could pass for a crime-scene photograph. In other images, Pinkava toys with what looks like blood spatter, entirely plausible given the execution-room vibe of his backgrounds. His most successful works present a concise visual embodiment of an everyday phrase. In Pinkava’s hands, “Throne” is a chair built with unnatural angles, tenuously balanced and covered with dollops of what appears to be sand (think Ozymandias). And “Head” is a sports helmet tossed on the ground, a grim approximation of the aftermath of a beheading. Yikes.

The exhibit is on view 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays to Dec. 16 at the American University Museum, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Free. (202) 885-1300. american.edu/cas/museum.