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In “Architecture of Authority: Photographs by Richard Ross,” the artist presents an abundance of chilling spaces devoid of any humans—Guantanamo cells, mental wards, police interrogation rooms—in large-format, high-detail color. The best images communicate such spaces’ dehumanizing elements, not only when they show primitive cages but more frequently when viewers drown in pitilessly geometrical patterns of blank gray surfaces, as with a Customs and Border Protection “rubber room.” Ross has an eye for absurd details, but his decision to pair genuinely unsettling spaces with those that are far more benign—a high school hallway, a fancy hotel’s pay-phone room, a DMV waiting area, even a toddler classroom—cheapens his premise. Ross obviously wants us to mull how all forms of authority shape our surroundings, but with pairings these heavy-handed, he might learn something about unchecked authority by peering in the mirror.
THE EXHIBIT IS ON DISPLAY MON.-SAT., 10 A.M.-5 P.M., AND SUN., 11 A.M.-5 P.M., THROUGH AUG. 16 AT THE NATIONAL BUILDING MUSEUM, 401 F ST. NW. FREE. (202) 272-2448.