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To Dec. 30
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If he weren’t such a clever, self-aware guy, Jason Hughes could almost be mistaken for an outsider artist. Take his series “Vices and Virtues,” each a smallish collage using cutout bits of commercial images against a plain white ground. Lust, for example, shows a woman in a red bikini riding atop a wild boar. Snakes wind around her torso and legs, and a halo of clumsily applied gold leaf encircles her head. The use of magazine photos to identify primeval forces—and cheesy decorative touches such as embossing—could mislead the viewer into thinking Hughes is some naive, manic folksy type, like, say, Henry Darger, who found models for representing his bizarre interior world in children’s coloring books. But Hughes, a Baltimore artist and curator, knows his art history, and a little psychology, too. So while the show’s central sculptural piece, Untitled (army men mandala), may be entirely made of cheap plastic toy soldiers, it also uses the form of a traditional Hindu mandala—which Jung believed could express the unconscious self. Such mashups of high and low, Eastern and Western, appropriated and invented, are by now standard procedures for making contemporary art. Yet Hughes’ restless intellect and careful cross-referencing—each color in his mandala, for example, corresponds to a vice-and-virtue icon—offer more than the usual exercise in ironic self-mythologizing. “To Beat the Devil: Jason Hughes” is on view from noon to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, to Saturday, Dec. 30, at Curator’s Office, 1515 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 387-1008. (Jeffry Cudlin)