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Godfrey Frankel: Windows and Signs, 1947

to Dec. 22

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Boldly colorful portraits and abstract imagery in two rooms, stark black-and-white photos of 1940s New York in another: Visitors to the elegant hidey-hole that is Hemphill Fine Arts could be excused for feeling a little visual whiplash brought on by the simultaneous display of paintings by Jacob Kainen and photographs by Godfrey Frankel. Shot between 1946 and 1949, Frankel’s gelatin silver prints of storefronts, subway entrances and odd signs (“If everybody was fat, there would be no war”) have the shadowy weight of stills from old noir films. Indeed, even the innocuously titled Shoppers on Rivington Street, Lower East Side, 1947 (pictured) has enough high-contrast grime and fedoras to leave you half-expecting to see Bogart or Mitchum in the crowd. Jacob Kainen, meanwhile, paints in two distinct styles: abstract expressionism, with geometric figures done in a very rough brush, and impressionistic-yet-fleshy portraits of women, vaguely reminiscent of Francis Bacon—if Bacon had popped a lot of Prozac and decided to paint with warm hues and bright, solid backgrounds. Stripped of all but the faintest suggestion of eyes, nose, or mouth, the figure at the center of Dancer Resting sinks into a pale backdrop that heightens her weight and opacity. Thematically, both artists contribute in their own ways to the postwar exploration of how to shape and stylize reality for the viewer. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, to Saturday, Dec. 22, at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 234-5601. (Nick Kolakowski)