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TO MARCH 5, 2006
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I’ve looked at Mei-Ling Hom’s clouds from both sides now, and from one angle they look like hex netting, aka chicken wire. That’s OK, because chicken wire is what the blobby, open-hanging forms are made of, and as a proper modernist the Chinese-American artist wouldn’t want to hide that fact. Hom’s Floating Mountains, Singing Clouds evokes ancient Chinese landscapes—it’s a funky, 3D scroll painting—but the piece’s ephemerality relies on light rather than line. The Philadelphia-based installationist has masked the windows of the Sackler’s entrance pavilion with gauzy white scrims, yielding milky light that adds to the atmospheric illusion. Not too much, though; the airy shapes still shimmer, revealing their metallic quality. Composer Eli Marshall, an American who teaches at Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, took the piece’s spaciness rather literally, crafting a breathy, cyclical score for the xaio, a Chinese flute. The music has as many open spaces as the metal netting, inhaling and exhaling on a leisurely schedule. If that strategy sounds a little obvious, so is the entire piece. Hom calls these cloudlike forms “a metaphor for cultural markers that don’t have a form” and relates them to her own culturally mixed background. Maybe so, but what’s most interesting about the artwork is how it fits and transforms one of the Mall’s more banal architectural spaces. Gaze at Floating Mountains, Singing Clouds for too long, though, and it might start to look like nothing more than chicken wire. The show is on view daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through Sunday, March 5, 2006, at the Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW. (202) 357-4880. (Mark Jenkins)