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TO MARCH 18
Some artists cast a very long shadow. Take Romare Bearden: You can’t look at collage—particularly collage dealing with African-American identity—without thinking of him. But Billy Colbert somehow manages to adopt Bearden’s signature medium and subject matter without merely slipstreaming behind him. In the nine works composing “Menagerie,” his current show at Pyramid Atlantic, Colbert finds compelling metaphors for the passage of time—specifically, our vague, feverish projections onto both the deliberately forgotten past and the ominous future—and also for the changing character of historic D.C. neighborhoods. (Penny Candy is pictured.) Chocolate City: High Dollar Playground is a complex space in which disparate layers of information meet. The background for this 20-inch-by-24-inch composition on aluminum is a close-up photo of what looks like layers of chocolate cake. An eroded, scraped pattern bisects this horizontally; it’s a remnant of faded maroon, pink, and green floral wallpaper, a visceral reminder of the impatient scraping happening inside the countless row houses that change hands across the District every day. The top half of We Sold Grand Ma’s House for a Lot of Money proclaims its title in weathered, barely legible white cursive script across a field of opaque green—a half-erased chalkboard message about gentrification. Underneath this, a young African-American girl’s face has been cropped at the eyes and covered with silkscreened blue-and-white outlines that seem to have been lifted from ’50s children’s books. These depict all-white playgrounds, hinting at both a segregated past and the shadow of purgatives to come. In each of his works, Colbert is in full command of his process, and he manages to wield heavily charged imagery without being didactic. The show is on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, to Friday, March 18, at Pyramid Atlantic, 8230 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. Free. (301) 608-9101. (Jeffrey Cudlin)