John Kirchner is not the first artist to playfully add to the work of another—Marcel Duchamp drew a mustache on a print of the Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo Pistoletto placed a statue of Venus before a pile of rags. Kirchner reclaims damaged old oil paintings by unknown artists and adds his own touches to the frames, such as clothing, apples, buttons, or for one pastoral scene, cow dung. The aforementioned Arte Povera work Venus of the Rags (which is in the Hirshhorn’s collection) has parallels to Kirchner’s work, but the difference between it and “Unknowns” is that Venus stands in opposition to the rags—a contrast between classical and contemporary art—while Kirchner’s add-ons are meant to continue the narrative that the original artist began. Titles tell us this—for a painting of a young man adorned with a coat similar to the one depicted in the work, Kirchner uses the title The Poet in the Dark Woods—So, Here’s My Moth-Eaten Overcoat That I Really Never Got a Chance to Wear Before Time and the Moths Caught Up to It. Another painting is wryly titled Virginia Gentleman With Pants on His Head. Juxtaposed with Kirchner’s old portraits are Brandon Morse’s videos, which depict the undulating scaffolding of a structure collapsing on itself to create a new form, to the tune of an electronic chirp. Decay is the link between the two shows, but unlike Morse’s, Kirchner’s figures are reborn.
THE EXHIBITIONS ARE ON VIEW FROM 11 A.M.-5 P.M., WED.–SAT., TO MARCH 21, AT CONNER CONTEMPORARY ART, 1358-60 FLORIDA AVE. NE. FREE. (202) 588-8750.