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to Dec. 23

According to the writer Arthur C. Danto, pop art strives to “reach a plane where aesthetics doesn’t matter.” More worrisome still, he’s identified the culprit and murder weapon in the death of art history: Andy Warhol, Brillo Box, in 1964. Kate Hardy would like to turn back the clock and rescue that image from its own seemingly inevitable fetishization—or, at least, the dispiriting consequences of the persistent gaze. In a series of careful watercolors on display at Project 4, she drops cropped images onto negative planes. Hero (pictured)finds a fireman standing at ease near the left end of a vast expanse of toothy paper; other works show an infant, a deer, a pair of jets—each object elevated to iconic status by the vacuum of the page. Hardy leaves it to the viewer to fill in the void, though she hopes to convey a sense of sympathy: All her selections are sort of twee, and their orientation is drawn from the category of clean, accessible, reproducible design that stripped the image of its meaning in the first place. A trio of watercolored photomontages are less leading: The sentimentality of the subject matter (spliced scenes from postcards, painted together as an Exquisite Corpse) is played against the sentimental composition of off-center-image-on-white, lending these works a dimension her others lack. Dimension is something Noelle Tan has in plenty, given the expansive Southwestern landscapes she photographs. To get a handle on the natural void, Tan has maximally overexposed her silver gelatins so that almost nothing remains in the print—just a lone person, say, or some stray telephone lines. Like Hardy’s watercolors, Tan’s photographs are handsome, emulating the desert glare. But the artist has taken something raw and polished it, leaning on too many clichéd images of the Lonesome West. The exhibition is on view from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, to Saturday, Dec. 23, at Project 4 Gallery, 903 U St. NW. Free. (202) 232-4340. (Kriston Capps)